Statement in support of Hyattsville becoming a sanctuary city

March 1, 2017, 7:30pm

City Council hearing on proposed sanctuary city bill

Hyattsville Municipal Building, 4310 Gallatin Street

 

Good evening, Mayor Hollingsworth and members of the City Council.

My name is Shannon Wyss, and i live at [redacted].  As a US citizen, i would like to speak strongly in favor of Hyattsville becoming a sanctuary city.

I won’t rehash arguments i’ve made for this bill in other venues; no one wants to hear something again for the third or fourth time!  What i will say here is that i do not believe it’s the job of Hyattsville police officers to do the work of ICE.  I’m sure the folks in HPD have plenty of other things to focus on without taking on the additional task of immigration enforcement.

I’m grateful that our police officers don’t ask anyone about citizenship status, nationality, or religion.  I hope this practice can be enshrined into city law so that it remains HPD policy in the future.

To those in this chamber who are opposed to this proposal, i want to assure you that, if other municipalities’ experiences are any guide, this change would not make Hyattsville a magnet for undocumented immigrants or Muslims (although i honestly don’t see why that would be a problem).

I also want to caution us against making generalizations that all – or even many – undocumented immigrants are criminals who don’t contribute to our community and that all of the undocumented folks in Hyattsville are Latinx.  Most undocumented people in the US have overstayed their visas, fewer of them commit crimes than citizens, they come from a variety of countries, they are our taxpaying neighbors, and many have partners or children who are citizens from whom they would be torn away if they were deported.

But regardless of where they came from or how they got here, folks without papers deserve all the dignity and respect that we give both to those who immigrated legally and to citizens.  That includes not being terrified of deportation should they run a stop sign on Hamilton Street or be caught smoking pot on Route 1.

I want all of my neighbors to feel safe in our wonderful city.  So i strongly urge members of the Council and the Mayor to support the proposed sanctuary city legislation.

Thank you for your time.

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Hyattsville Should Protect Muslims

[Slightly edited version published in the January 2017 Hyattsville Life & Times.]

[The differing statistics used in the piece below and in the one here speak to the difficulty of knowing the full extent of the very secretive NSEERS system.]

Many groups are working to fight the incoming Trump administration, including some of us here in Hyattsville.

Ward 3 councilmember Patrick Paschall will introduce a bill this month to make Hyattsville a sanctuary city – a place where the police don’t ask about immigration status and where the city won’t assist the federal government in the deportation of undocumented immigrants. These proposals are critical in our new political climate.

I hope, however, the city council would support an additional statement in this bill: that Hyattsville welcomes Muslims and will not aid in the (re)creation of a Muslim/Arab registry.

One of Donald Trump’s most terrifying plans is to revive just such a registry. While the details aren’t clear, it would certainly include some subset of Muslims and Arabs registering their names, addresses, workplaces, and activities with the federal government so they can be surveilled for anything that might be construed as “terrorism.”

Unfortunately, this idea is hardly new. George W. Bush created such a registry after September 11th: the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). From 2002-2011, over 100,000 Muslim and Arab teen boys and men had to register their whereabouts with the federal government. They had their photos taken; they were fingerprinted and interrogated. Included in those registering were non-citizen high school and college students, tourists, and non-citizens with jobs here.

While NSEERS was in effect, 14,000 Muslim and Arab men and boys were deported. Many of those who registered were held in captivity in the US for months, often with no outside contact. Families were torn apart. Communities were irreparably changed. And yet no registered individual was ever found guilty of terrorism.

Unfortunately, both NSEERS and Trump’s blatant Islamophobia have created an increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hate crimes, incidents that have recently included tearing off women’s hijabs and threatening letters sent to mosques and Islamic centers. Slightly over one-quarter of the anti-Muslim incidents reported to the Southern Poverty Law Center in November and December were perpetrated by those who made a specific reference to Trump, and many others were undoubtedly also motivated by his Islamophobic rhetoric.

As an agnostic, white, queer, US citizen, i don’t want to see this horrific practice revived. So i would love Hyattsville to be on record opposing a Muslim/Arab registry, supporting our Muslim and Arab neighbors, and saying that we will do nothing to aid the federal government in its profiling of Muslims and Arabs – or Latino/as or any other group.

When the President-Elect takes office, we must respond strongly whenever he mentions such a registry. It is only through the consistent, uncompromising action of individuals over the next 4-8 years that the great abuses he promises will be beaten back. One of those actions can be the passage of Paschall’s amended bill.

Regardless of your religious faith, a registry of Muslims and Arabs has no place in the US. I hope that the residents of our wonderful city will agree and support the council in passing this important bill.

We Must Fight Trump’s Muslim Registry

[As published in the Washington Blade on January 6, 2017]

[The differing statistics used in the piece below and in the one here speak to the difficulty of knowing the full extent of the very secretive NSEERS system.]

We sit on the precipice of a Donald Trump presidency. In the run-up to the election and the long weeks afterwards, the president-elect has made too many frightening proposals to list.

One of the most terrifying is his plan to revive a Muslim/Arab registry. While the details aren’t clear (something that’s true of many of his proposals), we can be certain that it would include some subset of Muslims and Arabs – perhaps all of them – registering their names, addresses, workplaces, activities, and/or places of worship with the federal government so they can be surveilled for anything that might be vaguely construed as “terrorism.”

Unfortunately, this idea is hardly new. George W. Bush created such a registry after Sept. 11: the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). From 2002-2011, 83,000 Muslim and Arab teen boys and men had to register their whereabouts and activities with the federal government. They had their photos taken; they were fingerprinted and interrogated. Included in those registering were non-citizen high school and college students, tourists and non-citizens with jobs here.

While NSEERS was in effect, 13,000 Muslim and Arab men and boys were deported. Many of those who registered were held in captivity in the U.S. for months, often with no outside contact. Families were torn apart, communities were irreparably changed, and the fear for many was palpable. And yet not one man or boy who registered was ever found guilty of terrorism.

Fortunately, President Obama dismantled NSEERS in December. So Trump will have to go through the regulatory process of having the registry reinstated before it could become active.

Unfortunately, irreparable damage has already been done. Both NSEERS and Trump’s blatant Islamophobia have led to an increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hate crimes. For instance, the Southern Poverty Law Center received reports of 112 anti-Muslim attacks from Nov. 9 to Dec. 12, just outpacing the number of reported anti-LGBT incidents (109) in the same period. In one month, that’s over one-third of the total number of incidents reported to the FBI in the entirety of 2015.

These anti-Muslim incidents have included tearing off women’s hijabs, burning or defacing mosques, and threatening letters sent to Islamic centers. Slightly over one-quarter of the anti-Muslim incidents reported to the SPLC were perpetrated by individuals or groups who made a specific reference to Trump, and many others were undoubtedly also motivated by his Islamophobic rhetoric.

So why should LGBTQ people care? Several reasons.

If you’re a decent human being, the blatant, systemic profiling of any group of individuals should give you pause, especially if that profiling has significant, negative impacts on the targeted group.

LGBTQ Muslims and Arabs would be doubly impacted. Not only will they be put under surveillance for their faith and/or nationality, but they would be forced into contact with a system that is notoriously homophobic and transphobic. LGBTQ individuals caught up in the criminal injustice system often suffer greater abuse and trauma than their straight/cisgender peers. Do we want to put Muslims and Arabs who are members of our family at that risk? And how would a registry of men and boys impact folks who are trans or non-binary?

LGBTQ Muslims will have to face not only homophobia and transphobia among certain Muslim leaders (as well as from our culture at large) but increased Islamophobia outside of their faith.

LGBTQ people who aren’t Muslim or Arab know what it’s like to be marginalized and oppressed.  But i doubt that most of us have any idea what having to register with and be watched by the federal government feels like. If the thought of having that additional burden strikes fear in your heart, imagine how it must make LGBTQ Muslims and Arabs feel.

As an agnostic, white queer who is a U.S. citizen, I do not want to see this horrific practice revived under a Trump administration.

When the president-elect takes office, we must respond strongly whenever he mentions such a registry. It is only through the consistent, uncompromising action of individuals over the next four-eight years that the great abuses he promises will be beaten back.

Regardless of your sexual orientation, gender identity or religious faith, a registry of Muslims and Arabs has no place in the U.S. Will you join me in that fight?

On the Precipice of 2017

Usually, New Year’s Eve is a time to anticipate starting anew. For the second time in my life, however, i’m not looking forward to tomorrow.

The first was December 31, 2001, when we were pretty sure that my dad’s cancer was terminal, something that was confirmed mere days into the new year. And sure enough, he died about five weeks later, on February 7, 2002 – fifteen years ago this coming winter.

This time, going into 2017, i’m dreading something entirely different: a Donald Trump presidency.

I’ve always dreaded Republican presidential administrations. But this kind of dread is completely different. This is a deep, abiding fear about the terrible, unprecedented changes that he will bring about.

I’m incredibly concerned about freedom of the press under Trump, about how the Republicans already seem to be rolling over to do whatever he wants, about how he will impact the Supreme Court for a generation or more to come, about his denial of climate change and the benefits of vaccines, about his pugilistic approach to everything from warring on Twitter with individuals who have criticized him to criticizing leaders from other countries, about his total lack of self-control, about his blatant misogyny and racism, about…everything.

And Mike Pence being there doesn’t make things any better. As a homophobic bigot who believes in reparative therapy, denying both abortion access and general reproductive health care to people who can get pregnant, reducing funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, and a host of other things, his presence in the administration will hardly be a salve to anyone in any of the communities that i care about.

I’m even more concerned about how all of this will impact individuals. People will literally die over the next 4-8 years as both a direct and indirect result of Trump’s presidency. People who are deported, especially LGBTQ people, will be killed in their countries of origin. People will lose health care, which will mean in some cases literally losing their lives. Those who are denied entry into the US, like Muslims, will be killed in their home countries. People abroad will be killed in the wars that he will start. A host of individuals – LGBTQ people, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, cisgender women, disabled folks, working class people, and many, many others – will be harassed, assaulted, raped, and killed by those who are newly emboldened by Trump’s blatant hatred of all those groups.

How many of those impacted will I know? How many of them will be ones i love? How many of my neighbors who are undocumented will be torn away from their homes and families? Will the Muslims i know be forced to register their whereabouts with the US government? Will any of them be deported on baseless suspicion of “terrorism”? Will my queer friends who don’t have my race and/or class privilege make it? What happens to the beautiful trans and gender non-conforming children with whom i volunteer, especially in school? What new diseases will run rampant, as HIV/AIDS did under Ronald Reagan, with nary a word of concern from Trump and people dying left and right? How many funerals will i go to in the coming years?

We don’t have a good track record in this country of knowing or analyzing our history. We don’t learn in school how to be good citizens, how to analyze the media, how to be critical thinkers regarding the actions and words of our leaders, how to think for ourselves. The immediate calls after the election to “unite” behind Trump and “give him a chance” show just how little we have learned from US and world history, how easily disasters in the past can be repeated, how self-righteous statements about “how could they have let that happen?” always apply to some other time and some other place.

I have little confidence that this time will be any different – or, at least, that it will be any different before it’s too late for way, way too many people, whose lives will have already been destroyed or literally ended.

How many of you reading this will get involved – like, really, get out there and do something? Repeatedly? Over and over again? For years? Will you call your representatives in your local, state, and federal legislatures? Will you read and watch things that will teach you about where we’ve been, how we got here, what Trump is doing, and how we can challenge him? Will you get out of your comfort zone? Will you support “the other” when Trump comes for them?

WHAT WILL YOU DO? Signing petitions is not enough!

If you cannot answer those questions, please stop right now and begin the process of coming up with some answers. WE NEED YOU! We cannot succeed without every single one of us being involved.

It is hard to feel optimistic about the new year on any more but the most micro level. Today, especially, i’m feeling very pessimistic about the ability of individuals in the US cultural context to organize to counteract a Trump administration successfully – or, at least, to be successful in any more than a piecemeal, patchy fashion.

Which doesn’t mean that i won’t be trying. I’ve already made more calls to my Senators and Representative (as well as entities like the DOJ) in the past 7-8 weeks than i have in my previous 44 years. My lack of job gives me the time to attend things like marches, rallies, and teach-ins without sacrificing the “me time” that i need as an introvert to feel emotionally healthy (a sacrifice that i will probably eventually need to make). I have two opinion columns in the works and hope to write more.

I commit to doing more to get involved and stay involved. Trump cannot go unchallenged.

But, oh, it feels so hopeless and useless in a US cultural context of apathy, lack of engagement, and pervasive fear and hatred of those who are different.

Tonight will not be a time of celebration. While the only thing i’ll miss about 2016 is that it wasn’t 2015, i’m not at all looking forward to the disaster that 2017 and the following years will be.

May we weather the Trump years and their aftermath in the least painful way possible. May every single one of my loved ones make it through unscathed. May their loved ones, and their loved ones, and their loved ones…do the same. May we find a national will to act against our government, which we haven’t had in the US since maybe forever. May Trump be dogged by opposition at every turn. And may that opposition SUCCEED.

May every single one of us remember that lives literally depend on our actions and involvement over the coming years.

Only then will 2017 (and 2018 and 2019 and 2020…) not be complete and total disasters for our country and for so many of the people who call it – or our earth – home.

WHAT WILL YOU DO TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN?

Statement in support of voting rights for non-citizens

October 26, 2016

City Council hearing on proposed voting rights for non-citizens

City Building, 4310 Gallatin Street

 

Good evening, Mayor Hollingsworth and members of the City Council.

My name is Shannon Wyss, and i’m a resident of Ward 4.  As a 44-year-old citizen of the US, i would like to speak strongly in favor of allowing non-citizens to vote in Hyattsville elections.

All of us, citizens and non-citizens alike, have a deep stake in what happens in our city, and local elections are often the most important ones for our day-to-day lives.  Because of that significance, voting is more important to many of us than the other major rights of citizenship:  serving on a jury, having a jury trial, and running for office.

In 2014, the US Census Bureau estimated that 35% of the residents of Hyattsville were born outside the US and that a total of 24% are not citizens.  So almost one-quarter of us cannot vote.  That’s a huge percentage of our neighbors whose voices are not heard at the polls in matters related to council representation, local taxes, parking, who sits in the mayor’s seat, and a host of other issues.

To those who are concerned that people who are not US citizens will be uninformed about how to vote, what democracy means, or the nuances of the issues of the day, let me assure you that non-citizens can be just as informed, if not more informed, than citizens.  And since we don’t have a requirement regarding citizens being knowledgeable before they cast a vote, i don’t see why we should put in place a special requirement for non-citizens.

I’m often proud to state that I live in Hyattsville, not only because of our diverse, progressive community but because of many of our laws.  I hope this charter amendment becomes yet another reason for me to tout how wonderful our city is.

I want all of my neighbors who are 16 or older to be able to have a voice in local elections.  So i strongly urge members of the Council and the Mayor to support the franchise for non-citizens in city elections.

Thank you for your time.

The Problem With “No One Will Be There To Help Me”

In the current presidential election cycle, where Donald Trump seems to gain popularity each day, liberals, progressives, radicals, and even many conservatives are watching in shock as things play out. Will Trump really win the Republican nomination? And if so, could he actually be elected president?

It is a terrifying, shudder-inducing prospect for many of us, especially for immigrants, Muslims, and people of color, all of whom would face significant personal and community oppression if Trump is elected.

A group of dozens of chanting people of all races and genders, mostly young.
Protesters against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump chant after it was announced that a rally for Trump was canceled. (Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press) Source: http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/trailguide/la-na-trailguide-03112016-htmlstory.html.

In an attempt to rally people to oppose this racist, sexist, xenophobic, and puerile candidate, i have seen many posts on Facebook of Martin Niemöller’s famous poem from after World War II:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

While the sentiments in Niemöller’s poem are certainly well taken and relevant, i find them incredibly problematic. Niemöller’s basic premise is that i should stand up for those who are oppressed because someday there might not be anyone to speak out for me.

Not because all oppression is wrong.

Not because i find [fill in the Oppression du Jour] problematic.

Not because i love people who are [fill in the name of the Oppressed Group du Jour].

But because someday none of those people may be around to help save my own hide.

How selfish and egocentric. And what a very sad statement on reasons to oppose oppression.

Certainly, Niemöller confronts many folks’ reticence to get involved in social justice movements if they aren’t (or don’t think they are) personally impacted by something. This dynamic is one of the deepest weaknesses of identity politics.

And the violence of the context about which he wrote – up to and including the state-run execution of Nazi opponents – would instill fear of being outspoken in just about anyone.

But his bottom line – “and there was no one left to speak for me” – is telling.

I am not involved in antiracist activism because i stand to benefit personally (although i do). I’m not an LGBTQ advocate because i’m queer (although i am). I don’t oppose xenophobia because i’m an immigrant (i’m not). I don’t support multilingual education and culture because i’m bilingual (how i wish that i was!).

I do all of those things because they are right. Because they’re ethical. Because they will lessen the burden of oppression faced by millions of people in the US.

If you’ve (re)posted or been touched by Niemöller’s poem, either recently or in the past, i urge you to step beyond his bottom line.

Please get out there and oppose not just Donald Trump but all forms of oppression – not because it might someday save your own self but because you truly want to help other people and to make the world a better place.

First they came for the Socialists, and I spoke out—

Because Capitalism ruins the lives of untold numbers of people.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I spoke out—

Because Unions improve conditions for workers in many industries.

Then they came for the Jews, and I spoke out—

Because anti-Semitism has a long history that I refuse to let continue unchecked.

Then they came for me—and I continued to speak out—

Both for myself and for every other group for which they’d come.

And even if I lost my self, I knew that the world had improved because of my voice.

Statement in support of a medical marijuana dispensary in Hyattsville

November 2, 2015

In front of the City Council Meeting; City Building, 4310 Gallatin Street

Good evening, Mayor Hollingsworth and members of the City Council.

My name is Shannon Wyss, and I’m a resident of Ward 4. As someone who is 43 years old and has never used any illegal drugs or even been drunk, i would like to speak strongly in favor of having a medical marijuana dispensary in Hyattsville.

As a part of the LGBTQ community, i have seen the devastation that HIV/AIDS has wrought on my world. Like many of us, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, i have watched or heard about innumerable people wracked by cancer, including both of my parents. And i have a former coworker with multiple sclerosis.

All of those folks could be – or could have been – helped by medical marijuana, which fights pain, stops muscle spasms, and decreases nausea.

Fewer than 10% of people who use pot get addicted. But even if someone does get hooked, is that really worse than the deep pain associated with cancer, the seemingly unending nausea that saps the appetite of those with HIV, or the uncontrolled muscle spasms of someone living with MS? I don’t believe that it is. But even if you do feel that addiction is worse, are you willing to look into the eyes of someone who can find relief no other way and condemn that person to a life of unending pain? If your answer is, “No,” then I would encourage you to support Hoye-Crest Apothecary’s request for a letter of support from the city.

If ultimately approved, I would also urge Hoye-Crest Apothecary to employ not just any local residents but our neighbors who have been convicted of a drug offense. One of the many appalling impacts of the so-called “War on Drugs” is the disproportionate impact that it has on communities of color, with African Americans and Latinos, especially, many times more likely to be arrested for, charged with, convicted of, and sentenced to long prison terms for selling or intending to distribute drugs. Many of those who oppose the “War on Drugs” have commented on the irony that white people are now making millions of dollars selling something that many men of color sit in jail for. Hoye-Crest Apothecary can do its part to right this racist wrong by ensuring that its staff is majority people of color who have a drug conviction on their records.

I am often proud to state that I live in Hyattsville, not only because of our diverse, progressive community but because of many of our laws and the resources that we offer to residents. I hope this becomes yet another reason for me to tout how wonderful our city is.

I strongly urge members of the Council and the Mayor to support the existence of a medical marijuana dispensary in Hyattsville.

Thank you for your time.

Statement in support of allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in Hyattsville elections (v. 2.0)

In front of the City Council Meeting; City Building, 4310 Gallatin Street

Good evening. My name is Shannon Wyss. I’m a homeowner in Ward 4 and would like to speak strongly in favor of extending the vote to sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds and of doing so without a referendum.

I won’t restate all the convincing research supporting youth voting rights. Council Member Paschall and others have already cited such studies. Instead, i’ll focus on a few other points.

First, i want to caution against infantilizing teenagers. It is both disrespectful and not backed up by research. And for those who believe that youth already “have a vote” because they can lobby their parents, please remember that that same argument was made against the franchise for white women 100 years ago with respect to their husbands. That argument was wrong then, and it is wrong now.

We adults would do well to remember that we don’t have a great track record ourselves. Adults can make decisions about what or whom to support at the polls based upon any number of ill-informed factors:

  • how many yard signs we see,
  • because we believe those truth-defying campaign ads,
  • because our religious leaders told us to support a certain person or issue, or
  • who has the easiest-to-pronounce name.

And yet no one is talking about taking away our right to vote. Surely teenagers cannot do any worse than many of us! Indeed,with their idealism, teens may make more informed and more passionate choices than many of their elders.

Additionally, youth use a plethora of city services. They drive, bike on, and walk along our streets. They feed parking meters. They call the Hyattsville Police Department. Their lives are impacted by council and mayoral action. Shouldn’t they have a say in how their tax dollars are used – dollars that they add to the city’s coffers every time they spend money here?

In addition to acknowledging their maturity, here is a reason to extend the vote to sixteen-year-olds and not those who are younger: the right to drive. If we allow sixteen-year-olds to get behind the wheel of a deadly weapon on a daily or even hourly basis, surely we can allow them to vote in city elections once or twice a year, an action where no one risks injury and that will only benefit our great city.

Finally, i urge the Council to have an up-or-down vote on this issue and not send it to a referendum. As part of the LGBTQ community, I am painfully aware that putting people’s civil rights to a popular vote is inherently problematic, especially if that group is a relatively powerless minority.

Our democracy will only benefit from giving the franchise to sixteen- and seventeen year olds. I welcome the voices of our youth at the polls.

Thank you for your time and attention to this important issue.

White Skin

[I’ve wondered if i should write anything at all. Do i actually have anything to say that hasn’t already been said? I doubt it. But i am somehow compelled to write anyway. Should i post this half-baked, stream-of-consciousness, working-it-out-as-i-go thing? I don’t know. But i apparently am anyway.]

White skin. One of the greatest privileges on earth. I have it, and it follows me everywhere. I cannot imagine what my life would be like without it. Or, rather, i can only imagine – and what i imagine isn’t pretty. Substandard housing. Underfunded and underperforming schools. Poor health. Bad healthcare. Terror of law enforcement. Friends, family, loved ones arrested, charged, convicted, jailed, and possibly executed. Seeing the police so frequently in my community that they are as much a part of the landscape as trees and grass. An early death from poor health or murder.

Not that i think that being a person of color in a white supremacist system is all about horrifying victimhood; far from it. But in the context at hand, that oppression, that marginalization, that life-endingness are what is most on my mind.

I carry this unearned race and class privilege with me wherever i go. I was raised in an upper-middle class white household in white neighborhoods surrounded by white teachers, white administrators, and white classmates. We read about white people in textbooks. I turned on the TV or watched movies and saw whites as heroes and presented as attractive. Characters in the books that i read could always be assumed to be white unless expressly described otherwise. The plays i was in were dominated by white actors playing white characters to white audiences. I went into stores managed by white people who never looked askance at me while i was browsing their aisles.

I have never feared the police while driving – heck, i’ve never even been stopped for “driving while short.” The one time i did get a traffic ticket, about a year ago, it never needed to occur to me that my interaction with the police officer would be anything other than civil. Today, i walked into a 99% African American elementary school for a work site visit, said who i was there to see, and was immediately sent unaccompanied and with no further questions to the gym to find the group that i was looking for – a courtesy a person of color, especially a man, would have been extremely unlikely to have received.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to experience the world as a person of color. Especially after the most recent miscarriages of justice in the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Truly. I can’t imagine how i would be feeling.

I know how i do feel, as a white person who tries to be justice-oriented. Angry. Furious. Ashamed. Shocked but not shocked. Horrified but not shocked. Irate but not shocked. The continued miscarriages of justice are no surprise: they have happened over and over again in US history – and recently, not just “back in the day.”

When, i wonder, will this end? When will Black lives really matter? I hope against hope that this is a moment that will be seized to make change – real change – come about. Because let’s be clear: this is about way, way more than Michael Brown or Eric Garner. May this be a defining moment in US history. May we use the anger spurred by these two most recent decisions to do something.

I look back at the Montgomery Bus Boycott – 381 days of folks refusing to take the bus to work. In a day and in a group where cars were not nearly as common as they are today. 381 days of walking mile upon mile to & from work, where you might have cleaned house for your white employers. 381 days of inconvenient and long carpools and shared gas purchases with funds that you really couldn’t spare. 381 days of heat and rain and humidity through the miles. 381 days of shoes worn down, worn out, worn through with no money to buy another pair.

Am i willing to do something like that today, whatever the 2014 equivalent in that moment would be? How much inconvenience am i willing to put up with for a principle? For a cause? Because let’s also be clear about this point: my life does not rest on this much-needed, long-overdue, much hoped-for movement. I have the choice to walk away. I can choose solidarity – and i can choose not to stand in solidarity. What am i willing to give up? What am i willing to contribute to ending white supremacy?

These are the questions that have been rolling around in my head over the last week. I don’t know the answers. I only hope that the right moment has finally arrived for some serious change to be demanded. And for those changes to be realized. And i hope that i will be on the right side, the side of action and agitation and solidarity and sacrifice, as this movement for racial and ethnic justice takes another giant step forward. We have let the system go on too, too long as it is. Posting on Facebook is not enough; reading books is not enough. The time has come – has long since come. Change is long overdue.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Statement in support of allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in Hyattsville elections

December 1, 2014

[In absentia, in front of the City Council Meeting; City Building, 4310 Gallatin Street]

Good evening. First, i would like to thank Edouard Haba for reading this statement since I am stuck home with the flu.

My name is Shannon Wyss. I’m a homeowner in Ward 4 and would like to speak strongly in favor of extending the vote to sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds in Hyattsville. As a forty-two-year-old who would have dearly loved to vote at that age, I’m excited by the possibility of extending the franchise to younger residents.

Youth have opinions and views on the world that we adults rarely take seriously. Allowing them to vote would be a way of remedying one of the instances of adultism that permeates our world. And as others have said, getting individuals involved at younger ages will help establish a lifetime of civic engagement, from which we will all benefit for generations.

For those who are concerned that teenagers are “too immature”to vote, I would like to posit that we adults don’t exactly have a great track record. In deciding whom to support at the polls, some adults make decisions based upon any number of ill-informed factors:

  • how many yard signs we see,
  • whether we believe those horrible ads on TV and the radio,
  • because our parents always voted for a particular party,
  • because our religious leaders told us to support a certain person or issue, or
  • who has the easiest-to-pronounce name.

Surely teenagers cannot do any worse than that! And, indeed, with the idealism that so often accompanies youth, sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds may make more informed and more passionate choices than many of their elders.

Until we adults clean up our act, we have no room to criticize young people for the ill-informed votes that they may make at some hypothetical point in the future. And if that ends up happening, there is one easy way for adults to counteract such votes: make sure that you vote yourself!

Our democracy will only benefit from having the franchise extended by two years. I look forward to the City Council passing this important measure and to seeing an increase in voter turnout and voter engagement in upcoming city elections. I welcome the voices of sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds at the polls.

Thank you for your time and attention to this important issue.