Brandi Lupo

 

Recent Posts by Brandi Lupo

  • Standing Up for the 6 Million Americans Who Can’t Vote on November 6th

    Oct 24, 2012Brandi Lupo

    Voting is a fundamental right -- unless you're ensared in the penal system.

    Voting is a fundamental right -- unless you're ensared in the penal system.

    This November, the presidential election may hinge on a few thousand votes. This same November, nearly 6 million Americans will be kept from the polls, disenfranchised under a number of ever more aggressive state laws barring felons and ex-felons from the voting booth. This is detrimental to our justice system and a vicious threat to our democracy.

    A report by The Sentencing Project estimates that these laws currently disenfranchise 5.85 million Americans. Of them, a whopping 75 percent are no longer inmates in prison or jail. Instead, they are serving parole, probation, or, in the case of 2.63 million individuals (nearly half of the entire population measured), are living in their communities freely, having already completed their sentences in full. Eleven states require a waiting period before voting after one’s sentence is complete; a lifetime ban awaits those with a felony record. The diagnosis is even grimmer when looked at by race. The report estimates that felony disenfranchisement laws in Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia each disenfranchise over 20 percent of their respective adult black American populations.

    Undeniably, the convicted felon and ex-felon populations are two of the least politically popular groups facing disenfranchisement, potentially making their case for participation in democracy the most difficult. Opponents deploy a number of arguments against this crucial step toward universal suffrage. Some argue that if someone chooses not to follow the law, then he does not have the right to help select those who make the laws. They say that the right to vote is one that can be taken away as punishment—even well after an individual has completed her sentence.

    Yet since the nation’s founding, a key concept prevailed and proved fundamental to democracy: the idea, explicitly stated in the Declaration of Independence, that government must derive its power from the consent of the governed. Despite having committed a crime, most felons and ex-felons are citizens, governed and affected by the decisions made in Washington. As an essential protection from government tyranny, corruption, and unjust laws, it is crucial that all citizens can (and do) contribute to the discussion of what type of society they would like to live in and what the laws dictating that society are.

    Laws against voting are not common sense measures promoting the public safety or welfare. For those worried that felons and ex-felons may unite into some powerful anti-criminal justice voting bloc, think again: there is no evidence to support such a unity amongst the group, such illicit views among felons in the criminal justice system, or such single-issue behavior. Like the rest of us, felons who choose to vote have a number of political ideas to balance in the booth.

    On top of all of this, public opinion here leans in favor of universal suffrage. Recent studies show that a clear majority favor restoring voting rights specifically to people who have exited prison and have served their entire sentence, are on parole, or are under supervised probation.

    Voting is essential to a valid democracy. It is both a right and a duty—not a privilege. It is fundamental to the rigorous and diverse discussion required by our society. Yet this November, nearly 6 million citizens will be barred from the voting booth, silenced and ostracized. This number begs the question: how can this be right? We at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network want to ask this question through Government By and For Millennial America, our new initiative focused on identifying the current problems in our government and providing solutions to create a better, more equal, and more accountable framework. Our polished vision will be ready to be put in place by Inauguration Day this January. Stay tuned.

    Brandi Lupo is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice and a student at New York University.

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  • Why OWS is Allowed to Have iPads and Laptops

    Nov 30, 2011Brandi Lupo

    occupy-journalMany in the movement aren't against a capitalist system per se, but want one that rewards innovation and talent fairly.

    occupy-journalMany in the movement aren't against a capitalist system per se, but want one that rewards innovation and talent fairly.

    The advent of the Internet has helped define the Millennial generation. The most tech-savvy generation to date has already made a splash in history: we have mastered all things electronic, founded successful Internet start-ups, and are the face of social media. This generation has learned to value, among other things, innovation, creativity, a free exchange of ideas, and ever-expanding networks. Thus, it is no surprise that Steve Jobs's recent passing deeply affected them, including those who are part of Occupy Wall Street.

    Some have been quick to call this appreciation "hypocrisy." An iPhone in the hands of an Occupy Wall Street protester, a fancy laptop at the media station, and all things name brand at OWS have been used to characterize the movement as a bunch of hypocritical, spoiled brats, angry about a system they are clearly benefitting from. The clothes they wear, phones they use, and food they eat are all sponsored and brought to them by "the very corporations [they] seek to destroy."

    Such a characterization is problematic. To call iPhone-toting OWS protesters "hypocrites" is to essentialize the entire movement as a wholly anti-capitalist insurrection -- an interesting move, seeing as another popular critique is that the group doesn't have a clue what it wants. And while I do not venture to speak for the Occupy movement, there is a large percentage of it that is not anti-capitalist. They are just as valid a part of the movement as their staunchly anti-systemic, anti-capitalist, and anarchist counterparts. In acknowledging this distinction, one need not place a value judgment on any faction of OWS, but rather recognize another voice of the movement that is significant.

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    What does this mean? Occupy Wall Street protesters are still allowed to be consumers. Calling this fact hypocrisy is to confuse a call for fairer commerce with a call for the end of commerce altogether. Does this mean they will readily don Jay-Z's "Occupy All Streets" tees? Not so fast -- OWS is not about to comply with such co-option. But it does mean that protesters can recognize the great worth of some of the most successful corporations of our time while still acknowledging the larger problems of unregulated markets: crony capitalism, large rates of income inequality, and the financial collapse of 2008.

    Where does Steve Jobs, as one of the wealthiest individuals of our time, fit into all of this? He remains a deeply appreciated, respected, and beloved innovator to be mourned and remembered. Quickly climbing Forbes' Richest People in the World list, most Americans believe that Steve Jobs deserved what he earned through talent, hard work, innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit. This is not to argue that Occupy Wall Street is saying that all of those other rich people "don't deserve it." Many in Occupy Wall Street do not have much of a problem with rich people per se but with a system that creates income inequality at levels this country has not seen in a generation; a system where working hard does not always equate with receiving one's fair share. In other words, they have no problem with Horatio Alger stories; in fact, they want more of them. Does everyone get to be Horatio Alger? Maybe not. But the top 10 percent controlling 70 to 90 percent of the wealth speaks for itself. There's room for more people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

    So don't pack up the lemonade stands just yet. Some of the kids of Occupy Wall Street just might like capitalism. They simply think this Monopoly game needs some reworking. And take it from the Innovation Generation: they might be able to come up with something game-changing.

    Brandi Lupo is the Northeast Regional Co-Coordinator for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a junior at New York University.

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