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“There is no question that momentum is building around what we’ve done in Evanston,” Simmons said in an interview.

While California created a commission last year to study statewide reparations, movements to establish them have struggled at the state and federal levels. Efforts in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Oregon have slowed or stalled altogether, making Evanston’s government the first to sign off on substantial sums to Black residents in the name of correcting a longstanding racial injustice.

That milestone has given social justice activists a concrete example to wield as they pitch broader reparations to a nation that has wrestled with how — and if — its government should address the systemic wrongs of slavery.

Victory in Evanston is likely to be measured by cities hundreds of miles away: places like Amherst, Mass.; Asheville, N.C.; Providence, R.I.; and Burlington, Vt. How reparations play out in those cities — and who gets to define what they are — will demonstrate whether Evanston is the model activists envision or an outlier that shows how polarized the country remains in coping with the legacy of racism.

“It takes a progressive, well-educated electorate. So yeah, places similar to Evanston will have more success,” said Alvin Tillery, Jr., director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy at Northwestern University, comparing it to conservative enclaves least likely to take reparations seriously. “Asheville and Burlington are more similar to Evanston than Cherokee County, Georgia, or where [Texas Rep.] Louie Gohmert serves.”

And if reparations are ever to become a real goal for Washington or statehouses, it will be places like Evanston that laid the political and policy groundwork to make it happen.

In Detroit, Keith Williams, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus, is quietly leading an effort to collect the 3,400 signatures by June 15 to put reparations on the city’s 2021 ballot.

“You saw Black Lives Matters signs in front of homes in white neighborhoods,” he said in an interview, noting how he was “inspired” after hearing about Evanston’s decision.

The language Williams is pushing would establish a committee to create a reparations fund and make recommendations on how to allocate money to those affected by racially restrictive covenants and housing discrimination.

Putting money in

What distinguishes Evanston’s program is that it comes with cash, and during an economic recession no less. It’s tailored to Black people who can demonstrate their ancestors either lived in the city between 1919 and 1969 — when racism was a matter of official policy — or can show they faced housing discrimination during that time. The funds are also purpose-driven: The $25,000 is specifically for buying a home or improving one they have.

Simmons and racial justice activists see the city’s move, which will dole the money out over 10 years, as the start of a grassroots effort that might eventually spur Congress to enact a federal reparations law. There’s precedent for small towns leading a national change. Desegregating the bus system in Montgomery, Ala., started with Rosa Parks’ iconic protest, and interracial marriage had dozens of small victories before the Supreme Court came around in 1967. Simmons also points to the more recent Ban the Box effort to remove criminal background checkboxes on employment applications that started in Hawaii and spread to Minnesota, Illinois and other states.

“Local initiatives have a history of inspiring Congress and communities to pursue and advocate and take action on long-overdue justice legislation in the United States,” said Simmons, who now sits on the New York-based National African American Reparations Commission.

Reparations aren’t new in the U.S. In 1988, the federal government disbursed more than $1.6 billion to more than 82,000 Japanese Americans who endured internment in this country during World War II. The reparations law signed by then-President Ronald Reagan admitted that internment was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

A congressional committee advanced reparations-related legislation, H.R. 40, for the first time in April. But it’s unclear whether the bill, which would set up a commission to study the issue and the U.S. government’s role in African American disenfranchisement, might reach the House floor. Its odds in the Senate are essentially zero.

Activists worry Democrats in the House won’t move forward with the measure for fear it would jeopardize 2022 midterms.

“Winning elections plays a big role in causing things to happen. It’s important to maintain the majority so that you can make some things happen in the next round,” said Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), who sees the issue gaining momentum anyway. “I’m optimistic. It’s been slow, but change is oftentimes slow. And it’s more evolutionary than revolutionary.”

Until the federal government embraces an approach to reparations for its part in slavery, smaller municipalities seem eager to experiment after Evanston made headway.

“It can be the model for other cities that want to step into the national debate,” Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said in an interview. “Race relations in this country has been a divisive issue since the Constitutional Convention and … as a country, it’s something we’ve never fully addressed head-on.”

Providence released a report earlier this year on the history of Black and Indigenous injustice in the New England city as part of what Elorza calls a first step in a reconciliation process. The city followed up with a request for proposals to talk with voters about the effects of those injustices and what might be done now.

The final phase — reparations — has proven to be the most challenging for Providence for the same reasons places like Asheville and other cities get stuck: cost.

“Finding money for this at the municipal level is a challenge in North Carolina because cities have very limited options for generating new sources of revenue,” said Julie Mayfield, a former Asheville City Council member who now serves in the state Senate. “Asheville is using all of the authority it has to generate revenue and really the only option that the city has to raise a lot of new revenue is to increase property taxes. And at this point, that is a challenge.”

Some faith groups have urged congregations to consider reparations, a message that’s resonated particularly strong with Episcopal and Protestant churches that had a greater role in slavery. And a few schools have raised the idea after facing pressure to tackle their racist roots — most notably Georgetown University, which announced plans in 2019 to build a fund for descendants of enslaved people it sold in 1838.

“As more organizations look at this — faith groups, businesses, universities — I think more people will come around,” said Michele Miller, co-founder of Reparations For Amherst, an organization she formed with Matthew Andrews in wake of the George Floyd killing by police last year.

The two approached the council in the small Massachusetts town to draft a resolution condemning racism, and three council members worked on the effort.

Last week, the town council’s finance committee proposed creating a fund for reparations using $209,000 in reserves out of the next budget, a move that requires support from two-thirds of the full council and is slated for later this month. An African Heritage Reparation Coalition recently approved by the council will then develop more proposals for generating money in future years.

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Guinea declares end to latest Ebola outbreak

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“I commend the affected communities, the government and people of Guinea, health workers, partners and everyone else whose dedicated efforts made it possible to contain this Ebola outbreak,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“Based on the lessons learned from the 2014–16 outbreak and through rapid, coordinated response efforts, community engagement, effective public health measures and the equitable use of vaccines, Guinea managed to control the outbreak and prevent its spread beyond its borders.” The U.N. said it will continue to provide post-illness care.

The CDC welcomed the news in a statement.

“I commend the government and first responders in Guinea for ending the country’s Ebola outbreak,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. “Our heartfelt sympathies are with the people who lost loved ones to this disease. CDC remains committed to supporting survivor programs and helping strengthen global preparedness and response capacities that can prevent or extinguish future Ebola outbreaks.”

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Hard-line judiciary head wins Iran presidency amid low turnout

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In initial results, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei won 3.3 million votes and moderate Abdolnasser Hemmati got 2.4 million, said Jamal Orf, the head of Iran’s Interior Ministry election headquarters. The race’s fourth candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, had around 1 million votes, Orf said.

Hemmati offered his congratulations on Instagram to Raisi early Saturday.

“I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran,” he wrote.

On Twitter, Rezaei praised Khamenei and the Iranian people for taking part in the vote.

“God willing, the decisive election of my esteemed brother, Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, promises the establishment of a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems,” Rezaei wrote.

The quick concessions, while not unusual in Iran’s previous elections, signaled what semiofficial news agencies inside Iran had been hinting at for hours: That the carefully controlled vote had been a blowout win for Raisi amid the boycott calls.

As night fell Friday, turnout appeared far lower than in Iran’s last presidential election in 2017. At one polling place inside a mosque in central Tehran, a Shiite cleric played soccer with a young boy as most of its workers napped in a courtyard. At another, officials watched videos on their mobile phones as state television blared beside them, offering only tight shots of locations around the country — as opposed to the long, snaking lines of past elections.

Balloting came to a close at 2.a.m. Saturday, after the government extended voting to accommodate what it called “crowding” at several polling places nationwide. Paper ballots, stuffed into large plastic boxes, were to be counted by hand through the night, and authorities said they expected to have initial results and turnout figures Saturday morning at the earliest.

“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders, and the lower participation in Western democracies. After a day of amplifying officials’ attempts to get out the vote, state TV broadcast scenes of jam-packed voting booths in several provinces overnight, seeking to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.

But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

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Apathy greets Iran presidential vote dominated by hard-liner

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“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders and the lower participation in Western democracies. But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord. Former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also blocked from running, said on social media he’d boycott the vote.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

Khamenei cast the first vote from Tehran, urging the public to “go ahead, choose and vote.”

Raisi, wearing a black turban that identifies him in Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, voted from a mosque in southern Tehran. The cleric acknowledged in comments afterward that some may be “so upset that they don’t want to vote.”

“I beg everyone, the lovely youths, and all Iranian men and women speaking in any accent or language from any region and with any political views, to go and vote and cast their ballots,” Raisi said.

But few appeared to heed the call. There are more than 59 million eligible voters in Iran, a nation of over 80 million people. However, the state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency has estimated a turnout will be just 44%, which would be the lowest since the revolution. Officials gave no turnout figures Friday, though results could come Saturday.

Fears about a low turnout have some warning Iran may be turning away from being an Islamic Republic — a government with elected civilian leadership overseen by a supreme leader from its Shiite clergy — to a country more tightly governed by its supreme leader, who already has final say on all matters of state and oversees its defense and atomic program.

“This is not acceptable,” said former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who sought to change the theocracy from the inside during eight years in office. “How would this conform to being a republic or Islamic?”

For his part, Khamenei warned of “foreign plots” seeking to depress turnout in a speech Wednesday. A flyer handed out on the streets of Tehran by hard-liners echoed that and bore the image of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2020. A polling station was set up by Soleimani’s grave on Friday.

Some voters appeared to echo that call.

“We cannot leave our destiny in the hands of foreigners and let them decide for us and create conditions that will be absolutely harmful for us,” said Tehran voter Shahla Pazouki.

Also hurting a moderate like Hemmati is the public anger aimed at Rouhani over the collapse of the deal, despite ongoing talks in Vienna to revive it. Iran’s already-ailing economy has suffered since, with double-digit inflation and mass unemployment.

“It is useless,” said Ali Hosseini, a 36-year-old unemployed resident in southern Tehran, about voting. “Anyone who wins the election after some time says he cannot solve problem of the economy because of intervention by influential people. He then forgets his promises and we poor people again remain disappointed.”

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