SCOTUS and Voting Rights: It’s not the end of the world (even if it feels it to some…)

The other day, the Supreme Court struck down a section of the Voting Rights Act, a treasured symbol of Martin Luther King’s work, racial equality and — frankly — equality in general. Women’s rights, Native American rights Gay rights, all kinds of civil rights, would not even be considered without the hope that the Voting Rights Act.

Is that horrible? On some levels, yes, probably. Since I am not Black myself, I may not be the person to ask, but it seems like a bad idea, knowing history.

But what if they are right? What if the Supremes got it right? After all, they didn’t throw out the whole thing, just that section.  What if they got it more right than they know? According to NPR this afternoon, they basically said, “It’s unconstitutional to hold these states hostage to their past, and require them to do extra based on old evidence. The South of the 1950’s and the early 1960’s is gone, historically. It’s now 40 years later, surely something must have changed, if only the number on the top of the Calendar.

As I understand it, the Supremes said the Federal government needs new information to prove their case that some states make it harder to vote and that there’s racism involved. Dr. King never said this equality thing would be easy. In fact, he knew it would be hard. He also knew we were up to the challenge.  He knew that love was stronger than hate, but that hate wasn’t going to give up easily. 40 years later, we can see he was right on both counts.

The thing is that, even with 40 years gone by, finding voting irregularities or racists instigating them is not going to be hard to do. Before this last election, there were so many irregularities, attempts at law changes, voter registration scams, in so many states that it was hard to keep track of them all. It was probably the first election where Whites were in the minority, and some of the people who were bothered by that tried to “fix it” so that things didn’t change. They lost.

So now the Supreme Court says we have to go back to the drawing board and come up with new facts to figure out who needs help staying honest. The President should hop right on this and set up a team of folks who will look at all 50 states, because this last election proved that some Southern states have made progress and some Northern States regressed. Arizona, — neither Northern nor Southern really, it  seems to me, has some way to go before all of its citizens get to vote without hassle.  I think there was some trouble in Philadelphia and Wisconsin had some weird thing happen with its voting regulations. Some states had tried to do something with student voting rights. It’s a mess out there — but more importantly, it’s an obvious mess out there.

People are panicking and you can’t wave a stick without poking an openly racist person in the eye – at least if TV presents any version of reality. FOX news, anyone? The Republican debates last year? There is a certain joy in racism the past few years that I don’t remember seeing before. There is a certain boldness to the far, far right that I haven’t seen in quite awhile in all manner of oppression — women’s rights, voting rights, worker’s rights. People snicker when they’ve made a racist or sexist remark and think they’ve gotten away with it. How many times, for instance, has Rush Limbaugh, or Rick Perry  or some other public figure said something that was totally insulting and then laughed about it daring us to do something about it? There comes a point where they get in trouble and they go away to their corner for awhile. I’d be okay if that point lasted a while, but we’ll see.

 

I’m not a statistician, but it seems to me that if you take 50% of the population and try to oppress them, then you add whatever percentage of people want to vote but can’t, and then add whatever percentage of people support unions,  in a democracy you’re just asking for a revolt. All the gerrymandering, all the redistricting, all the attempts at keeping people away from the voting booth notwithstanding, if enough of us are paying attention, things will change. It will be easy, in this climate, to come up with new facts — the facts of 2013 — to show the court that the Voting Rights Law section which was stricken down should be put back in place where it’s needed.

 

I just watched the Rachel Maddow coverage of Texas legislature’s defeat of a bizarre abortion bill pushed by the governor of the state, Rick Perry. In it an older Black Senator is seen yelling “Point of Order. Constitutional Point of Order!” That is when it started for me — the idea that people of the new American demographics would get together to defend each other. For years, we could have seen oppressions as linked, but now people — at this level of absurdity — people are actually beginning to act like “when you hurt them, you hurt me, because they are my brother or sister” — whatever they look like. OK, so it’s one un-named old Black Senator — but un-named Black folk have been bringing about change since forever and some men have been supporting women’s rights for a long time because they like women and straight folks have supported gay rights and everybody knows a worker who’s being taken advantage of in some way or another. That’s more than enough eyes to see racist voting patterns where they exist and to acknowledge where they don’t.

 

So, while I’m not thrilled by the work the Supreme Court has given back to the Federal government and — more importantly, the people of this country — I recognize that they may actually be right. They may, in fact, be more right than they knew. Let’s get to work proving it.

 

Peace,

 

John

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