An attack on the right to vote is underway across the country through laws designed to make it more difficult to cast a ballot. If this were happening in an emerging democracy, we’d condemn it as election-rigging. But it’s happening here, so there’s barely a whimper.
The laws are being passed in the name of preventing “voter fraud.” But study after study has shown that fraud by voters is not a major problem — and is less of a problem than how hard many states make it for people to vote in the first place. Some of the new laws, notably those limiting the number of days for early voting, have little plausible connection to battling fraud.
These statutes are not neutral. Their greatest impact will be to reduce turnout among African Americans, Latinos and the young. It is no accident that these groups were key to Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 — or that the laws in question are being enacted in states where Republicans control state governments.
Again, think of what this would look like to a dispassionate observer. A party wins an election, as the GOP did in 2010. Then it changes the election laws in ways that benefit itself. In a democracy, the electorate is supposed to pick the politicians. With these laws, politicians are shaping their electorates.
Paradoxically, the rank partisanship of these measures is discouraging the media from reporting plainly on what’s going on. Voter suppression so clearly benefits the Republicans that the media typically report this through a partisan lens, knowing that accounts making clear whom these laws disenfranchise would be labeled as biased by the right. But the media should not fear telling the truth or standing up for the rights of the poor or the young.
The laws in question include requiring voter identification cards at the polls, limiting the time of early voting, ending same-day registration and making it difficult for groups to register new voters.
Sometimes the partisan motivation is so clear that if Stephen Colbert reported on what’s transpiring, his audience would assume he was making it up. In Texas, for example, the law allows concealed handgun licenses as identification but not student IDs. And guess what? Nationwide exit polls show that John McCain carried households in which someone owned a gun by 25 percentage points but lost voters in households without a gun by 32 points.
Besides Texas, states that enacted voter ID laws this year include Kansas, Wisconsin, South Carolina and Tennessee. Indiana and Georgia already had such requirements. The Maine Legislature voted to end same-day voter registration. Florida seems determined to go back to the chaos of the 2000 election. It shortened the early voting period, effectively ended the ability of registered voters to correct their address at the polls and imposed onerousrestrictions on organized voter-registration drives.
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court, by 6 to 3, upheld Indiana’s voter ID statute. So seeking judicial relief may be difficult. Nonetheless, the Justice Department should vigorously challenge these laws, particularly in states covered by the Voting Rights Act. And the court should be asked to review the issue again in light of new evidence that these laws have a real impact in restricting the rights of particular voter groups.
“This requirement is just a poll tax by another name,” state Sen. Wendy Davis declared when Texas was debating its ID law early this year. In the bad old days, poll taxes, now outlawed by the 24th Amendment, were used to keep African Americans from voting. Even if the Supreme Court didn’t see things her way, Davis is right. This is the civil rights issue of our moment.
In part because of a surge of voters who had not cast ballots before, the United States elected its first African American president in 2008. Are we now going to witness a subtle return of Jim Crow voting laws?
Whether or not these laws can be rolled back, their existence should unleash a great civic campaign akin to the voter-registration drives of the civil rights years. The poor, the young and people of color should get their IDs, flock to the polls and insist on their right to vote in 2012.
If voter suppression is to occur, let it happen for all to see. The whole world, which watched us with admiration and respect in 2008, will be watching again.
By: E. J. Dionne, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 19, 2011
All of us have learned some lessons about the meaning of solidarity from the recent events in Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker’s so-called “budget repair bill” was a draconian assault on workers’ rights and unions. He followed this with what the Wisconsin education superintendent called “the greatest state cut to education since the Great Depression” and a host of other cuts that disproportionately affect poor people and people of color. Teachers and other public sector employees, along with parents, students, and many, many others, responded with an outpouring of creative, imaginative, and hope-inspiring acts of solidarity.
Solidarity is parents texting teachers to say: “I heard you were going to Madison today. Do you have space for one more in your car?” Solidarity is firefighters (who are not losing collective bargaining) showing up to parade among thousands of protesters every day for two weeks and sleeping on the cold, hard Capitol floors to keep the “people’s house” open for the people. Solidarity is people from as far away as Egypt and Antarctica calling in donations to Ian’s Pizza to feed protesters. Solidarity is strangers running up and saying “Thank you” as they sign a petition to recall their state senator in the most conservative, affluent white suburbs. Solidarity is when two educators can put together a protest on Wednesday night and get 200 picketers at a biased local news station Friday—after school and in the rain. The experience of being in the midst of something much larger than oneself—and realizing that we can change the world for the better, can take care of each other, can make decisions together—is life changing.
Acts of solidarity are growing in Wisconsin and beyond. And it’s a good thing, because solidarity is what we need to sustain us during the most difficult time for public employees and public education that our country has seen in our lifetimes. As the wealthy—and the politicians they have purchased—continue their pursuit of privilege and privatization, we need to be even more audacious in nurturing solidarity for survival.
The attacks on the public sphere go well beyond Wisconsin. Ohio recently passed a law that prohibits collective bargaining over health care and pensions for all public employees, including police and firefighters. Michigan’s Public Act 4, passed in March, allows the governor to appoint “emergency managers” for municipalities with “fiscal emergencies.” The governors of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and a handful of other states hope to replicate and expand the policies of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who eliminated collective bargaining for state employees six years ago through executive order. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is refusing to negotiate with state workers over health and benefits, and has proposed eliminating tenure, seniority, and civil service protections for teachers while imposing a mandatory test-based evaluation system not subject to collective bargaining.
In Wisconsin, the teachers’ union was a major force in getting people out to the Capitol, with the Madison local, Madison Teachers Inc., taking the lead. After the first day of sick-outs by Madison-area teachers, the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council called on 98,000 Wisconsin educators to come to the Capitol to protest the bill on Thursday and Friday instead of going to work. The push and pull between rank-and-file union members and union leaders was evident. Activist locals pushed the state organization, and rank-and-file members pushed their union locals. On the flip side, many union leaders asked reluctant members to go beyond their comfort zones and get active to defend their rights.
When Wisconsin teachers arrived at the Madison Capitol to join the protests, they stepped into a powerful tradition of progressivism and unionism. The signs, T-shirts, and invited speakers made it clear that this wasn’t just about teachers, it was about all workers’ rights. As the days wore on and the fight drew increasing attention in the national media, protesters became increasingly conscious that losing in Wisconsin could be the beginning of the end for workers’ rights across the country. Walker saw the situation the same way. He told a prank caller impersonating billionaire donor David Koch that “Ronald Reagan . . . had one of the most defining moments of his political career . . . when he fired the air traffic controllers. . . . This is our moment, this is our time to change the course of history.”
Walker claimed that “Wisconsin is broke” but, as Michael Moore told protesters at the Capitol: “America is not broke. Not by a long shot. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It’s just that it’s not in your hands. . . . Today just 400 Americans have the same wealth as half of all Americans combined.” In fact, one of Walker’s first acts as governor was to give the rich another $140 million in tax breaks.
America’s wealth is not only held unequally, it’s also misappropriated in obscene ways. Virtually always ignored in these discussions is the looming U.S. military budget, which was $663.8 billion last year. What would that money and those human resources mean, directed to meeting social needs instead of poured into weapons and conquest, including the endless occupation of Afghanistan? The current crisis is not an “unavoidable” consequence of economic recession; it is a bill come due for bailouts, bombs, and unsustainable inequality. And it’s being delivered to the wrong address by the political servants of the rich.
Cuts Target the Most Vulnerable
Compounding public employees’ anger at the attacks on their jobs and unions has been growing anger about the debilitating budget cuts that destroy public services and make it impossible to serve the needs of students, patients, or clients. Among Wisconsin teachers, this led to a feeling of “What do we have to lose?” Late one night, as dozens of teachers debated whether to organize a sick-out, one teacher remarked: “If one-third of your building calls in sick tomorrow, you’ll have the same staffing levels as you’ll have every day next year after the budget cuts.”
Attacks on the public sector—teachers, nurses, social workers, librarians, public health workers—are in essence attacks on the people they serve: children and those who are sick, elderly, homeless, disabled, jobless, newcomers, or otherwise in need of public services. In state after state, budget cuts have targeted those who are most vulnerable. The racial and class injustice of the cuts is undeniable. In Michigan, proposed cuts would close half the schools in Detroit, where 95 percent of the students are African American, and increase class size to 60. The Texas budget proposal would eliminate pre-K funding for almost 100,000 children. In Washington, cuts would eliminate prenatal and infant medical care for 67,000 poor women and their children. In Wisconsin the governor’s new budget hits Milwaukee Public Schools, the state’s largest and most impoverished district, particularly hard. The proposal denies health care coverage and food stamps to many more people in need, including both documented and undocumented immigrants. It will take away college opportunities from undocumented immigrants by repealing the current state law that allows any resident to pay in-state tuition.
Also in Walker’s proposal is a huge expansion of public support for private schools. Milwaukee would become the first city in the United States in which any child, at any income level, could attend private school (including a religious school) on the public dime. And lest we think that this is a peculiarly Wisconsin development, the spending deal to avert a federal government shutdown in April included a plan to provide federal money to low-income students in Washington, D.C., to attend private schools.
This insistence on spending money on vouchers in the midst of a “fiscal crisis” exposes the right’s real goals. This is the future that many people with great wealth, and those who do their bidding, have in mind: the decimation of workers’ rights to organize, the withering of the public sphere, wealth and power increasingly concentrated at the top. The signs that proclaimed “We are all Wisconsin” and the solidarity protests across the country were a recognition that—as the Industrial Workers of the World said more than 100 years ago—an injury to one is an injury to all.
No doubt, in the face of these increasingly aggressive right-wing attacks, frustration, depression, and even desperation are widespread. But here, too, communities around the country can draw inspiration from Wisconsin. Months after the first protesters marched into the Capitol, people continue to organize. A few examples: massive recall campaigns aimed at state senators who voted to destroy collective bargaining; street protests dogging the governor’s footsteps; teacher “grade-ins” at local malls to make weekend grading and planning visible to the community; campaigns to get out the vote for progressive candidates; a boycott, led by the Wisconsin Firefighters Union, against M&I Bank, whose executives are major funders of Gov. Walker.
Yes, this is no time to despair. There is too much on the line. But it’s also no time to ignore very real and enduring problems in our schools. Too often, the enemies of public education have taken advantage of schools’ failure to meet the needs of disenfranchised communities to push privatization schemes and market reforms—from vouchers to Teach for America—as the alternative. As educators, we need to listen to students’ and parents’ genuine grievances about public schools and respond with engaged imaginations and a determination to work together as school communities. We need to build labor-community alliances that directly confront racial injustice. Moving in that direction were May Day celebrations this year in Wisconsin, New York, and other states built by conscious collaborations of labor and immigrant rights organizations with demands for human rights that were explicitly pro-immigrant, pro-labor, and anti-racist. We need more cross-union alliances like Jobs with Justice to organize the unorganized and support all workers’ rights—here and around the world. We need more teachers’ unions that defend communities as well as contracts, and political organizations that see electoral campaigns as one aspect of a permanent mobilization toward democracy and justice.
As the articles in our cover section point out (see p. 14), we need to equip our students to recognize what’s at stake—and to look at history and current social movements to see what people, including young people, can do when they act on their beliefs. If Wisconsin’s Scott Walker has taught us anything, it’s that what is at stake is the kind of society we want to live in.
These past few months in Wisconsin have shown that consciousness-raising and organizing can be filled with humor, imagination, and a bold spirit of resistance. We can build on this work, deepening and multiplying our expressions of solidarity, to sustain us through this intensely difficult time and propel us toward a more humane and just future.
By: The Editors, Rethinking Schools, June 24, 2011
It’s beginning to look like when Haley Barbour shuffled off into the Mississippi sunset, saying he just couldn’t commit to a 10-year presidential crusade, he left his draft campaign playbook sitting on a garbage can, and Newt Gingrich picked it up. Barbour, you’ll recall, was trying out a new approach to race in the Obama era: Jim Crow wasn’t “that bad,” the white-supremacist White Citizens Councils kept down the KKK, and nobody could make him denounce an effort by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to dedicate a license plate to KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest, either. “I don’t go around denouncing people,” declared the man who denounced Democrat Ronnie Musgrove for efforts to remove the Confederate flag from Mississippi’s state flag. I said at the time that Barbour was trying out the notion that post-Obama, people — particularly white people leaning Republican — are ready for an approach that says let’s quit all this whining about racism, it wasn’t that bad, it’s time to get back to the business of cutting taxes for the rich and programs for the poor.
Well, Newt Gingrich seems to have wandered by the garbage can to pick up Barbour’s draft playbook, and it’s all unfolding as planned. He’s getting hit for calling President Obama “the food stamp president”; even David Gregory heard the racial imagery in the term, given the way Republicans have long loved to associate welfare programs with black people. Ronald Reagan famously railed against Cadillac-driving “welfare queens” and “strapping young bucks” buying “T-bone steaks” with food stamps; Barbour actually praised Head Start, because some of the kids in it “would be better off sitting up on a piano bench at a whorehouse than where they are now.” I called Gingrich’s remarks “coded racism” yesterday, and today right-wingers were up in arms, pointing out that most food stamp recipients are white. This is absolutely true of most welfare programs, which is why the GOP association of welfare with black people has always seemed, well, racist.
But let me be clear: I might not have paid attention to Gingrich’s “food stamp president” jibe had it not come along with a panorama of images designed to make clear Barack Obama is blackity black black. Praising right-wing Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Gingrich said he’ll make the U.S. more like Texas, while Obama only “knows how to get the whole country to resemble Detroit.” In the speech to Georgia Republicans where he tried out the “food stamp president” slur, Gingrich also told the bastion of the old Confederacy that 2012 would be the biggest election since 1860 — you know, when Abraham Lincoln got elected and the South began to secede over slavery, commencing the Civil War. He also suggested the U.S. might need to bring back some kind of voting test, banned under the Voting Rights Act. Last year, of course, Gingrich denounced Obama’s “Kenyan anti-colonialist behavior,” which made him “outside our comprehension” as Americans, spreading the lie that Obama inherited angry African anti-colonialism from his absent African father, though he was raised by his white mother and grandparents. Oh, and he headed the drive to label Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor “racist” when she was nominated in 2009.
So let’s review: Welfare slur? Check. Tie to a troubled, mainly black city? Check. Specious association with African anti-colonialism? Check. Dire reference to Lincoln and the start of the Civil War, while campaigning deep in the heart of Dixie? Check. Suggestion we need a voter test? Check. Oh, and for good measure, calling liberals concerned about racial injustice “racist”? Check. Awesome: They’ve hit pretty much every way the GOP has used to divide Americans by race in the last 200 years!
Great job, Newt. You’ve developed the perfect platform to run a spirited GOP campaign that attracts a cadre of aggrieved white people. You’ll never be president of the United States, but you’ll be the champion of the declining share of the country that still thrills to what we used to call dog-whistle politics: coded varieties of racism only understood by their intended audience. And all the efforts by Gingrich defenders to claim I’m the racist are just funny. One of Andrew Breitbart’s minions is leading the charge, and he lamented Monday morning on Twitter: “Would prefer to hammer Newt today over throwing Ryan under the bus, but @joanwalsh, @davidgregory, & @ebertchicago had to go & do this.” (Roger Ebert was kind enough to Tweet my Sunday Gingrich story.)
I’d advise the Breitbart gang to get back to hammering Gingrich over Paul Ryan’s politically suicidal budget plan; they should focus on the shard of people who want to debate whether Gingrich or Ryan is the leader who can lead their party off a cliff. Anyway, they’ve mistaken me for someone who cares what they have to say. Gingrich is doubling down on racial politics, and I’m going to continue to call it out when I see it.
Oh, and this is one in an occasional series of pieces on folks who will never be president, which began when Sarah Palin unraveled over the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. I didn’t get to Barbour or Mike Huckabee; they realized they would never be president all on their own. It seems silly to write the same piece on Donald Trump; it’s like saying “pigs will never fly.” But I’m sure there will be a few more to come.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, May 16, 2011
It’s not unusual to find a fair amount of 2012 optimism in Democratic circles. The economy is improving; Republican overreach is causing voters to recoil; and President Obama will be on the top of the ballot again, giving Dems a boost they lacked in 2010.
But for all that cautious confidence, it’s worth noting that Dems can’t win if their supporters can’t vote. And with that in mind, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee reported this week on Republican efforts in state legislatures to rewrite voting laws “to make exercising one’s right to cast a ballot more difficult.”
After examining the plethora of bills introduced in statehouses this year that, among other things, would reduce poll hours and require voters to show photo ID, it seems clear that Republicans are trying to make it harder for certain groups to vote. The Advancement Project, an advocacy group of civil rights attorneys, called the push “the largest legislative effort to scale back voting rights in a century.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Republican legislators have introduced bills that would diminish access to the voting booth in over 40 states. All of these Republican proposals focus on one apparent goal: restrict ballot access and shrink the electorate — often in ways that would decrease Democratic votes.
Many of the proposals are in the form of voter ID legislation, which would require potential voters to present specified forms of identification in order to cast a ballot. Republicans supporting these measures claim they’re necessary to prevent “voter fraud.”
Too bad that “voter fraud” isn’t a problem that actually exists.
By all appearances, GOP efforts fall under the “When in doubt, disenfranchise” category. The Republican-led efforts aren’t addressing actual problems with the integrity of the voting process, unless you consider likely Democrats participating in elections to be a “problem.”
Of particular interest are voter-ID efforts, which are likely to disproportionately affect African Americans, the poor, and voters under the age of 30.
In other words, state Republican officials are targeting — without cause — the constituencies least likely to vote Republican. What a coincidence.
But there are related GOP efforts to stand in the precinct door. Patrick Caldwell has reported on Texas Republicans’ proposals designed to limit access to the polls, including absurd new restrictions on registering new voters. There are also measures in states like New Hampshire to block college students from registering in their adopted home states because, as one prominent GOP leader put it, “Voting as a liberal. That’s what kids do.”
We’re talking about a systematic effort, which is unfolding nationwide for a reason. The easiest way to win an election has nothing to do with candidates, fundraising, or grassroots operations. It’s to stack the deck long before the election — rigging the system so that those most likely to vote the “wrong” way simply don’t get to participate. We saw some of this during the Bush era, relying on odious tactics like “voter caging,” but the strategy is clearly expanding and intensifying.
Ideally, if Republicans are so panicky about losing elections, they should field better candidates and adopt a more sensible policy agenda, not push schemes to block Americans from voting. Indeed, Republicans routinely pull a lot of stunts, but few are as offensive as these anti-voting tactics. It’s one thing to lie one’s way through a campaign; it’s more damaging to the integrity of the country to stop people who disagree with you from even having a say in the process.
In a close election, where a percentage point or two can help dictate the future of the country, just how damaging can these tactics be? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly
Last May, then-candidate Rand Paul’s (R) Senate campaign in Kentucky ran into a little trouble. The self-accredited ophthalmologist explained in newspaper, radio, and television interviews that he disapproved of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, because the private sector should be allowed to do as it pleases. “[T]his,” Paul said at the time, “is the hard part about believing in freedom.”
Asked specifically by Rachel Maddow, “Do you think that a private business has the right to say, ‘We don’t serve black people’?” Paul replied, “Yes.” Seven months later, he won easily.
Almost exactly a year later, Paul’s father, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, explained his nearly identical beliefs about the milestone civil rights legislation.
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asked the Texas congressman, “The ‘64 civil rights bill, do you think an employer, a guy who runs his shop down in Texas or anywhere has a right to say, ‘If you’re black, you don’t come in my store’?” And with that, Paul explained he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act, adding, “I wouldn’t vote against getting rid of the Jim Crow laws.”
Matthews noted, “I once knew a laundromat when I was in the Peace Corps training in Louisiana, in Baker, Louisiana. A laundromat had this sign on it in glaze, ‘whites only on the laundromat, just to use the laundromat machines. This was a local shop saying ‘no blacks allowed.’ You say that should be legal.”
Paul didn’t deny the premise, but instead said, “That’s ancient history. That’s over and done with.”
I’d note in response that this isn’t “ancient” history — millions of Americans are old enough to remember segregation, and millions more are still feeling the effects. For that matter, that era is “over and done with” precisely because of laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The country didn’t just progress by accident; it took brave men and women willing to bend the arc of history.
Let’s also not lose sight of the larger context. In 2011, the United States has a member of Congress and a Republican presidential candidate who publicly expresses his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And because we’ve grown inured to GOP extremism, this somehow seems routine.
Indeed, it’s unlikely Paul’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination will feel the need to condemn his remarks, and probably won’t even be asked about them.
By: Steve Benen, Political Animal, Washington Monthly, May 14, 2011