How our current tax laws prohibit the nation’s best leaders from fully confronting mass incarceration
[And other social/political issues.]
by, Shaun King
“But let me make it even more personal for the world I operate in. At last count, we have over 70,000 black churches in America. It is the most consistent and influential institution in black communities from coast to coast, but the leaders of those churches, because of various tax laws, are not allowed to use their buildings or pulpits for explicit political endorsements. They can’t email it to you either. They can’t do it anywhere on church property or with church equipment. Even though those churches and those communities are ravaged by mass incarceration, they aren’t allowed to really get into the fight to inform people of what to do and who to vote for that will change the system. So, what we end up having are 2,400 District Attorneys in power, often fighting against the health and well-being of black communities, with 70,000+ pastors who cannot freely campaign for alternatives. I’m not even saying we should remove this prohibition — I just need you to know it’s there — and for black communities — this is problem is heightened — because the primary leaders in the community can’t get very specific about criminal justice reform.
It goes much deeper than that.
Because of tax laws governing charities, including almost every single civil rights organization you’ve ever heard of, including the NAACP, the Urban League, the ACLU, and others, those organizations are not allowed to endorse political candidates or use their resources in political campaigns of any kind. They can skirt around the issue. They can host forums with every candidate. And that stuff helps, but not enough. They can’t tell you which sheriff and jailer and DA is corrupt or violent or horrible. They can’t tell you who needs to be replaced and who you should replace them with.
The same is true for most fraternities and sororities — who have deep influence around the country. It even includes hardcore justice organizations that do amazing work — organizations that I love and respect — but would lose their non-profit status if they actually endorsed a political candidate.
So guess what they say when it comes time to vote?
That’s about it. If they say much more than that, it could truly jam them up legally. So all they can tell people, is “go vote.” That’s it.
Can I be frank?
“Go vote” is not enough. And the proof is the very system itself.
If “go vote” was enough, our 2,400 prosecutors would look and feel and act very differently.
If “go vote” was enough, Republicans would not control the House, Senate, Presidency, Supreme Court, and the majority of governorships and state legislatures right now.
“Go vote” is a not a political strategy. It’s hardly a slogan. Hell, it’s not even a good tweet. It lacks the specificity and nuance that people to know who to vote for and against. It lacks the detail needed to actually change the system.
So what happens is people go vote, normally down a single party line, often voting for complete strangers, often choosing random names from among Democrats, hoping they are great. Often, they aren’t. Some of the worst DA’s and judges in America are Democrats. Good people run against them, but the leaders people know and trust can’t tell you that. I can tell you 20 cities off the top of my head where this is the case right now.
What I am about to say pains me. I am not pointing at you. I am owning it.
We got where we are right now because we’ve been out-organized.
People who mean us great harm are in power right now because they have out-organized us.
Yes, they’ve often gerrymandered their way into success, but even that was them out-organizing us.”