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“New Voting Laws Show That The Struggle Continues”: Pointing To A Growing Lack Of Respect For Individual Voting Rights

Growing up in Mississippi more than 50 years ago, Sammie Louise Bates had to help her grandmother count the money needed to pay poll taxes. Living under Jim Crow laws angered Bates — and inspired her to become a lifelong voter.

Bates was 25 when the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, abolishing poll taxes and other discriminatory voting practices. For most of her life she did not face hurdles to the ballot box like her grandmother did.

But in 2013, that changed. Bates was no longer able to vote because her home state of Texas passed a new restrictive voter ID law. To get an acceptable photo ID, she first needed to pay $42 for a birth certificate. The cost was too much: “We couldn’t eat the birth certificate,” she testified in a lawsuit, “and we couldn’t pay rent with the birth certificate.”

Bates is an example of the hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of Americans who now face difficulties voting because of new state laws restricting the right to vote. On the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march, which galvanized support for the VRA, these Americans remind us that the struggle is not over.

After decades of progress, the past five years has seen the most extensive attack on voting rights since the VRA was signed into law. Since 2011, every state but one has considered legislation that would make it harder for many eligible citizens to vote, and half the states passed new voting restrictions. By the 2014 election, after lawsuits and repeal efforts, voters in 21 states faced tougher voting rules than they did in 2010.

These new voting restrictions — which go beyond Texas-style photo ID laws and include things like early voting cutbacks and voter registration restrictions — apply to everyone. But they are not neutral in their impact. While most people do have a driver’s license or a similar state-issued photo ID, for example, the 11 percent of Americans who do not are disproportionately African-American and Latino.

And while most people still vote on Election Day, minorities make up a disproportionate number of those who voted on the weekend and other early voting days cut in states like North Carolina and Ohio. The net effect of these changes is a voting system that is less accessible to minorities, especially those with modest incomes.

A federal court found last year that Texas’s photo ID law was passed for the purpose of discriminating against the state’s minority voters.

In at least some states, this effect is not an accident. A federal court found last year that Texas’s photo ID law was passed for the purpose of discriminating against the state’s minority voters. (That case is now on appeal.)

Race has played a significant role elsewhere as well. The push to restrict voting came after a surge in participation among African-Americans and certain other groups in 2008. Recent studies found that the more a state experienced increases in minority and low-income voter turnout, the more likely it was to push and pass laws cutting back on voting rights. The Brennan Center similarly found that of the 11 states with the highest black turnout in 2008, seven passed laws making it harder to vote. Of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth in the 2010 Census, nine states did so. And of the 15 states that used to face special monitoring under the VRA because of a history of racial discrimination in elections, nine states passed laws that make it more difficult to vote.

Unfortunately, efforts to restrict voting show no signs of abating. In the first few weeks of this year, legislation was introduced in 17 states and already progressed in two.

All this points to an urgent and continuing need for strong legal protections for voting rights — protections sought and won by the brave marchers 50 years ago in Selma. But here’s the rub: in the midst of a controversial and racially-charged battle over voting rights, the US Supreme Court gutted a core provision of the VRA. The net result has been not only a loss of voter protections in the courts but also a marked increase in discriminatory voting changes in states that used to be covered by the law. This contributes to a growing lack of respect for voting rights — arguably the defining feature of American democracy.

So what can we do? For starters, urge Congress to update and restore the Voting Rights Act. Urge your state not to pass retrograde voting restrictions, and instead to modernize the voter registration system and adopt other sensible improvements like those recommended by a recent bipartisan presidential commission. And join the tens of thousands of Americans flocking to Selma this week in honoring one of our nation’s greatest accomplishments — the recognition of the equal right to vote for every eligible American.

We have come a long way, but we still have farther to go.

 

By: Wendy Weiser, Director, The Democracy Program at The Brennan Center for Justice: Bill Moyers Blog, Moyers and Copany, March 6, 2015

March 9, 2015 Posted by | Bloody Sunday, Selma, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bigotry Is A Core Republican Value”: Missing Selma; The Final Death Of GOP Minority Outreach

It’s the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday in Selma, and it appears that after withering criticism and embarrassment, the GOP has decided at the last minute that maybe one of their leaders should actually bother to show up.

But the near miss won’t do much to obscure the message: the GOP has essentially abandoned its minority outreach, at least to African-American voters.

Facing demographic reality after their devastating defeat in 2012, Republicans issued a report saying they needed to consider policy changes to court minority voters. That olive branch lasted a few weeks before their base and its mouthpieces on AM radio urgently reminded them that bigotry is a core Republican value and would only be dismissed at the peril of any politician that didn’t toe the Tea Party line.

Now the party finds itself shutting down Homeland Security to protest the President’s mild executive order on immigration and almost ignoring the Selma anniversary entirely. The minority outreach program is not just dead: it’s a public embarrassment and heaping ruin.

That fact underscores certain disturbing realities for the future. Republicans will double down on the white vote, attempting to gain over 75% of it to put their anti-Hillary into the White House. They will continue to try to disempower cities in favor of surrounding suburbs and rural areas.

And they will continue to try to disenfranchise as many minority voters as possible–one of the reasons why the Selma memorial is so problematic for them. Republicans are actively trying to remove as many minority voters as possible from the eligible pool, and have no interest in being reminded of Dr. King’s struggle to achieve the end of Jim Crow and true voting rights for African-Americans.

The GOP has made it abundantly clear that things are going to get much uglier before they get better. Their base won’t have it any other way.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 7, 2015

March 8, 2015 Posted by | Bigotry, Republicans, Selma | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Voteless People Is A Hopeless People”: Memories Of Selma And ‘Bloody Sunday’; ‘They Came With Nightsticks’

They became iconic images of the civil rights movement: A middle-aged black woman tear-gassed and beaten and slumped unconscious on the side of the road. A white Alabama state trooper, billy club in hand, stands above her. In another photo, a young man cradles her body in his arms.

Amelia Boynton Robinson, the woman in those photos, had helped galvanize hundreds of activists to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965 — part of a march from Selma to Montgomery to demand their civil rights. Helmeted law enforcement officers pummeled the peaceful demonstrators on what became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

“They came with horses,” Boynton Robinson recalled. “They came with nightsticks.”

She is now a centenarian — conflicting sources put her age at 104 to 109 — and devotees lovingly refer to her as “Queen Mother.”

“I was taught to love people, to excuse their hate and realize that if they get the hate out of them, that they will be able to love,” Boynton Robinson said during a recent trip to Los Angeles. “After Bloody Sunday people began to wake up.… and those who have arisen because of our Bloody Sunday have excelled.”

The matriarch of the civil rights movement is physically frail and uses a wheelchair, but she remains perceptive and alert, and her failing health has not dampened her determination to keep pushing for change.

“I was born to lead,” said Boynton Robinson, whose role in the voting rights movement is featured in the film “Selma.” “My parents didn’t look at people as being colored or white.” They treated everyone as equal, she added.

Boynton’s activism began when she was a girl growing up in Savannah, Ga. As young as 9 years old she accompanied her mother in a horse and buggy, distributing leaflets for the Women’s Suffrage Movement. (Women finally got the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.)

At age 14 she attended Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youth, now Savannah State University. Two years later she started studying under the tutelage of famed African American botanist and inventor George Washington Carver.

Her career would lead to her to becoming a home demonstration agent for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The job included helping rural women with food preservation and teaching home economics.

“My parents made an example of what they wanted their children to be,” Boynton Robinson said. “My parents never looked down at anybody,” and they believed every individual should be treated and respected as royalty, she said.

Boynton Robinson became a registered voter in 1932, but many blacks, particularly in the South, remained disenfranchised due to obstacles, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, enforced by state and local authorities. The Selma establishment was known to be among the most egregious in barring blacks from the polls.

Along with her husband, Sam, she pushed for black rights, and their house on Lapsley Street in Selma became a meeting place for organizers in the movement. Planning sessions for the march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge were held in that house.

The Selma march was organized to protest the fatal shooting a few days earlier of a young African American church deacon named Jimmie Lee Jackson by an Alabama state trooper, and the general issue of black disenfranchisement across much of the South.

During a meeting in Malibu with middle school journalism students, the veteran activist vividly recalled how law enforcement officials, armed with tear gas, were determined not to let the activists march to Montgomery. She recounted how when demonstrators refused to disperse, the attack began.

“People were running because they were beating you,” Boynton Robinson said. “I mean they were beating everything. I just stood still.”

An officer ordered her to run. She asked, “Why, what for?” That’s when he struck her on the shoulder, then at the base of her neck, knocking her unconscious.

Troopers dragged her to the side of the road, leaving her for dead.

As Boynton Robinson later learned, when Selma’s Sheriff Jim Clark was told of her presumed demise he was less than sympathetic.

“He said, ‘If she’s dead, let her alone and let the buzzards eat her,’” Boynton Robinson said.

Fellow activists came to her aid and an ambulance eventually took her to a hospital.

The images of the atrocities that day triggered shock and outrage across the globe.

When Boynton Robinson became aware of the magnitude of the malfeasance that occurred on Bloody Sunday, it intensified her will “to do better and go farther and … to help the people to become registered and voters,” said the activist, who in 1964 was the first black woman in Alabama to seek a seat in Congress.

According to published material, in the weeks after the march a group of U.S. congressmen met with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders at Boynton Robinson’s home to produce the first draft of the Voting Rights Act. Boynton Robinson was at the White House when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the act into law in August 1965.

Although census data shows that turnout among voting-age African Americans in presidential elections has vastly improved in recent years — in part due to President Obama and his campaign’s community mobilization drive — Boynton Robinson believes there is still a sense of apathy among the black electorate.

“They have gone back to sleep,” she said. She appealed to today’s generation to embrace the lessons of the struggle and not take suffrage for granted.

“I am still determined that these young people will realize that a voteless people is a hopeless people,” she told the students, and later added: “If they keep doing what Dr. King and the others were doing, we will not regret…. because we have paved the way for them to follow.”

 

By: Ann M. Simmons, The Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2015

 

March 7, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Selma, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Truth Crushed To Earth Will Rise Again”: Injustice Is Resilient, But So Are Defenders Of Freedom

First, they sang “God Will Take Care of You.”

Then they walked out of Brown Chapel to a playground where they organized themselves into 24 groups of 25 each and set out marching. Their route out of Selma took them onto Highway 80, which is carried over the Alabama River by a bridge named in honor of Confederate general and Alabama Ku Klux Klan leader Edmund W. Pettus.

It was about 2:30 on the afternoon of Sunday, March 7, 1965.

At the foot of the bridge, the marchers were met by Alabama state troopers. Some were on horseback. Major John Cloud spoke to the marchers through a bullhorn. “It would be detrimental to your safety to continue this march,” he said. “And I’m saying that this is an unlawful assembly. You are to disperse. You are ordered to disperse. Go home or go to your church. This march will not continue. Is that clear to you?”

He gave them two minutes to comply. Just over one minute later, he ordered troopers to advance.

They moved toward the marchers, truncheons held waist high, parallel to the ground. But something seemed to overtake them as they pushed into the demonstrators. The troopers began to stampede, sweeping over unarmed women, children and men as a wave does a shore.

Tear gas filled the air. Lawmen on horseback swept down on fleeing marchers, wielding batons, cattle prods, rubber hoses studded with spikes. Skin was split. Bones were broken. The marchers were beaten all the way back into town. A teenager was hurled through a church window. On the bridge, the cheers and rebel yells of onlookers mingled with the shrieks of the sufferers and became indistinguishable.

Thus was the pavement of the freest country on Earth stained with the blood of citizens seeking their right to vote.

By rights, this 50th anniversary of those events should be an unalloyed celebration. After all, the marchers, fortified by men and women of good will from all over the country, eventually crossed that bridge under federal protection, marched for four days up Highway 80 and made it to, as the song says, glory. They stood at the state capital in Montgomery and heard Martin Luther King exhort them to hold on and be strong. “Truth crushed to earth,” he thundered, “will rise again!”

The Voting Rights Act was signed into law. And African -Americans, who had been excluded from the ballot box for generations, went on to help elevate scores of citizens who looked like them to the mayor’s office, the governor’s mansion, the White House.

So yes, this should be a time of celebration. But the celebration is shadowed by a sobering reality.

In 2013, the Voting Rights Act was castrated by the Supreme Court under the dubious reasoning that its success proved it was no longer needed. And states, responding to a non-existent surge of election fraud, have rushed to impose onerous new photo ID laws for voters. When it is observed that the laws will have their heaviest impact on young people, poor people and African-Americans — those least likely to have photo ID — defenders of the laws point to that imaginary surge of fraud and assure us voter suppression is the furthest thing from their minds. How can it be about race, they cluck piously, when the laws apply to everyone?

Of course, so did grandfather clauses, poll taxes, literacy tests and other means by which African-American voting rights were systematically stolen for decades and a Whites Only sign slapped onto the ballot box. It is disheartening that we find ourselves forced to fight again a battle already won. But the events of half a century past whisper to us a demand for our toughness and faith in the face of that hard truth. They remind us that, yes, injustice is resilient.

But truth crushed to earth is, too.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, March 4, 2015

March 5, 2015 Posted by | Injustice, Selma, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“John Lewis Tells His Truth About Selma”: Reflections Of A Legacy Of Resistance That Led Many To Struggle And Die For Justice

The role of art in our society is not to reenact history but to offer an interpretation of human experience as seen through the eyes of the artist. The philosopher Aristotle says it best: “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance.”

The movie “Selma” is a work of art. It conveys the inner significance of the ongoing struggle for human dignity in America, a cornerstone of our identity as a nation. It breaks through our too-often bored and uninformed perception of our history, and it confronts us with the real human drama our nation struggled to face 50 years ago.

And “Selma” does more than bring history to life, it enlightens our understanding of our lives today. It proves the efficacy of nonviolent action and civic engagement, especially when government seems unresponsive. With poignant grace, it demonstrates that Occupy, inconvenient protests and die-ins that disturb our daily routine reflect a legacy of resistance that led many to struggle and die for justice, not centuries ago, but in our lifetimes. It reminds us that the day could be approaching when that price will be required again.

But now this movie is being weighed down with a responsibility it cannot possibly bear. It’s portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s role in the Selma marches has been called into question. And yet one two-hour movie cannot tell all the stories encompassed in three years of history — the true scope of the Selma campaign. It does not portray every element of my story, Bloody Sunday, or even the life of Martin Luther King Jr. We do not demand completeness of other historical dramas, so why is it required of this film?

“Lincoln,” for example, was a masterpiece, a fine representation of what it takes to pass a bill. It did not, however, even mention Frederick Douglass or the central role of the abolitionists, who were all pivotal to the passage of the 13th Amendment. For some historians that may be a glaring error, but we accept these omissions as a matter of perspective and the historical editing needed to tell a coherent story. “Selma” must be afforded the same artistic license.

Were any of the Selma marches the brainchild of President Johnson? Absolutely not. If a man is chained to a chair, does anyone need to tell him he should struggle to be free? The truth is the marches occurred mainly due to the extraordinary vision of the ordinary people of Selma, who were determined to win the right to vote, and it is their will that made a way.

As for Johnson’s taped phone conversation about Selma with King, the president knew he was recording himself, so maybe he was tempted to verbally stack the deck about his role in Selma in his favor. The facts, however, do not bear out the assertion that Selma was his idea. I know. I was there. Don’t get me wrong, in my view, Johnson is one of this country’s great presidents, but he did not direct the civil rights movement.

This film is a spark that has ignited interest in an era we must not forget if we are to move forward as a nation. It is already serving as a bridge to a long-overdue conversation on race, inequality and injustice in this country today. It may well become a touchstone, a turning point for another generation of activists who will undertake the next evolutionary push for justice in America.

It would be a tragic error if Hollywood muted its praise for a film because it is too much a story and not enough an academic exercise.

Whenever I have a tough vote in Congress, I ask myself what would leaders of courage do? What would King and Robert Kennedy do? What is the right thing to do? What is the fair and honest thing to do?

The people have already spoken. They are marching to the theaters, arrested by the drama of this film, moved by ideas too long left to languish, driven to their feet and erupting in enthusiastic applause.

 

By: Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), one of the leaders of two of the Selma marches, is portrayed in “Selma.” He has been a member of Congress since 1987; Op-Ed Opinion, The Los Angeles Times, january 16, 2015

January 19, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr, Selma | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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