Thursday, August 15, 2013
"In the beginning"...of this enterprise we call the United States, land-owning white men were the only people with any rights; and therefore the only people that could vote. This eventually changed to include all men. Then eventually it included land-owning former slaves. Then eventually it included women. Then eventually, with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it included EVERYONE. Well, in theory it included everyone.
Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act, there has been a major effort made in several parts of the country to slowly deconstruct the bill. States have passed laws challenging the Voting Rights Act in an effort to limit the voting of racial and ethnic minorities, women, and immigrants. In addition, they attempted to discriminate against the poor, the elderly, and the infirmed. Basically, what some people in this country are trying to do is take us back to 1840 when only wealthy white men could vote.
What baffles me about this is not so much that politicians would support this; because unfortunately politicians don't seen the country (or the world) through the lens of humanity, but instead through he lens of politics. Therefore, if a politician in Alabama would benefit from the disenfranchisement of poor and minority citizens in their state, they're probably going to support it, regardless of the societal repercussions of that decision. It's not necessarily true that the individual is discriminatory (though it's not necessarily true that they're not, either), they're just opportunistic. But what they fail to realize is that their opportunism has real societal consequences that will live on much longer than their political careers. A mistrust or outright disgust for the electoral system is a consequence of that opportunism. And this is especially true among minorities and the poor.
While politicians may benefit from this narrowing of the political class, in the long run you're creating a society that hates politics and politicians, and could possibly (and will probably) one day rebel. Their attempts to keep white men on top will prove fruitless in the long run, because the reality is that old white men are dying every single day. And as the old guard of opportunistic politicians die out, we see the rise of younger politicians who, though they may still be opportunistic or even discriminatory, have to be much more pragmatic in a changing world.
Which brings us to the Supreme Courts decision to strike down section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This specific provision basically makes mandatory a review of any changes to election laws made by states that have a history of discrimination in voting laws. Congress extended section 5 in both 1970 and 1975, and again in 1982, and lastly in 2006.
Therefore, despite antipathy among members of Congress, they were willing to uphold a piece of legislation that they determined was the bedrock of equality in voting. The Supreme Court decided otherwise. The problem with this decision is that even before the SCOTUS struck down section 5, we've seen an unrelenting effort (mostly by Republicans) to disenfranchise any and all people (or rather groups) they felt would vote Democrat. There have been requirements to buy government issued IDs (essentially a poll tax), limiting of voting times, closing of voting locations, confusing ballots, etc. All of these efforts are having the desired effect of those pushing them. They're creating confusion that leads to frustration, and eventually apathy toward the electoral process.
But we can't give in this easily. If we continue to be frustrated and allow those that would disenfranchise people to win, things are only going to get worse. We're going to see more than just voting rights go out the window; but rather our civil rights as well. It's time to get mad. It's time for people who don't agree with the direction we're heading to stand in front of the tank (so to speak), to set themselves on fire (so to speak), to chain themselves to the tree (so to speak), to refuse to leave the lunch counter (so to speak). Because right now we're playing right into the game of those that want to take away rights. They want us frustrated. They want us apathetic. They want us averse to the electoral and political process. It makes it a whole lot easier for wealthy white men to dominate if no one else wants to be part of the process.
So get angry. Protest. Start a march. Write your congressman and tell them to re-pass section 5 of the voting rights act with updated numbers of voter discrimination. It's time to act. Because it's better to change things now than to wait until the change will not be what anyone expects and will have the potential to create instability.