By Yussuf Simmonds
Specialfrom the Los Angeles Sentinel
Black leaders say that we must fight voter disenfranchisement and not let it deny us the gains made via the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was passed almost 50 years ago.
The right to vote is a constitutional right. The Voting Rights Act (VRA) that was signed into law Aug. 6, 1965 was designed to protect individuals who were denied the right to vote based on their race or prerequisite qualifications such as literacy tests, poll tax and/or having a photo ID card. What the VRA actually did was: it enfranchised millions of minority voters whose right to vote had been curtailed by Jim Crow laws. That landmark legislation became the great equalizer, and it brought about the legal end of discriminatory practices of voter disenfranchisement. It was a victory for justice and for all Americans.
However, there is a movement today to re-institute those discriminatory practices. In the last year, several states have passed laws that would suppress/curtail the voting rights of minorities, the elderly, youthful and disabled voters; and other states have similar laws pending. It amounts to the same old Jim Crow by another name and the Rev. A. Sharpton is leading the fight across the country to stop those who would turn back the clock to the “bad” old days.
In Los Angeles, to take the voter suppression message to the Western Baptist State Convention, Sharpton spoke to the Sentinel. He said, “The voter suppression that we are witnessing through the voter ID laws and ending early voting are designed to re-introduce Jim Crow to the electoral process. This is the most serious threat to voter rights that we have seen in 47 years since (President) Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, and one of the reasons that National Action Network (NAN) and I are committed to turning them around – these laws – and to have people prepare to fight for this, is that it could not only cost us this election, it could cost us our right to vote period.
“And we are galvanizing around the country because this is a serious fight, and it will not only determine if (President) Barack Obama would be reelected, but it will also determine whether we remain a significant part of the electorate. People need to understand the seriousness of this issue.”
Actually voter suppression is the latest ruse in a series of acts that have reared its ugly head since 2008 since President Barack Obama won the election. Those acts include, but are not limited to, the birther movement and the tea party, and now the subtle suppression of voters’ rights in the form of voter IDs.
“There is no doubt about it; it is a continuation and an extension of the tea party and others who want to turn back the clock. It is also an attempt for them to eliminate our voting strength. They can have a fight without our hands being handcuffed behind our backs. And I think a lot of us are sleeping through the most significant challenge to our being able to protect ourselves that I have seen in a long time. We must have a sense of urgency and a sense of crisis about this.”
An NAACP report titled, “The Hidden Swing Voters: Impact of African Americans in 2012” revealed that due to a significant increase in voting, African Americans tipped the 2008 presidential election outcome in the swing states of North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana and Florida. Part of Sharpton’s job is to re-energize the electorate as was done in 2008.
He continued, “They must be energized even more than (they were) in 2008 to continue to fight … we cannot win one round and think that the fight is over. They (the right wing) started the night of the inauguration … they started planning how they were going to undermine the President and all of us. Many of us celebrating the inauguration for a year while they were plotting and the results are: we lost the House of Representatives to the right wing. We cannot afford to lose any more elections because of the principles and the interests that we represent… and we certainly cannot afford to not have the right to vote.”
While Sharpton was in town, many of the local leaders who share the urgency that he spoke about, concerning voter suppression, decided to hold a fundraiser to assist in defraying his expenses, as he travels throughout the country on behalf of all disenfranchised people. They included Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Music mogul Clarence Avant, Judge Greg Mathis, and Sentinel’s executive publisher Danny J. Bakewell Sr.
Out of a concern for the dismantling of the VRA, the Sentinel has reached out to many prominent black leaders, and this is what they had to say:
CBC CHAIR, CONGRESSMAN EMANUEL CLEAVER: “At a time where the right for millions of Americans to vote is once again being threatened, it is critical for us to remember the significance of this day and the events that led to the passage of this landmark legislation.
“Forty-seven years ago, this country took a stand to protect people of color from nefarious disenfranchisement tactics. Today, while we celebrate passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, nearly 5 million people’s right to cast their ballot is once again under attack. Six years ago, no voter identification law existed. Today, at least 33 states have introduced contemporary versions of voter ID requirements and at least 13 states have introduced bills to end Election Day and same-day voter registration that allows millions of voters, particularly minorities, the elderly and those from low income households to participate in the democratic process. We cannot let this stand.
“As we honor the work done by those who fought to preserve this right, Members of the Congressional Black Caucus reaffirm their commitment to protecting the voting rights of all Americans and to make sure that no eligible voter is turned away from the ballot box this year or ever again.”
CONGRESSWOMAN MAXINE WATERS: “We have become outraged and deeply alarmed by mostly republican state legislatures’ recent attempts to disenfranchise minority, low-income, ex-felon, and young voters. Republican-controlled legislatures around the country are rewriting voting laws to require photo identification at the polls, reduce the number of days of early voting, and to enhance voting restrictions against ex-felons and out-of-state students.
“At a critical time in our nation’s history, when we are debating the future of vital social services and federal programs, the Republicans are crafting policies to limit and discourage the participation of groups and individuals who do not share their political views. These actions are purely motivated by politics and the Republican Party’s nationwide efforts to consolidate power and influence at the expense of fundamental rights.
“The new voter ID laws and other restrictions have the potential to disenfranchise millions of eligible voters and disproportionately impact specific populations. Election experts say minorities, poor people, seniors, and students are among those that are least likely to have valid driver’s licenses. And studies have shown that as high as 11 percent of eligible voters nationwide do not have government-issued IDs.”
SUPERVISOR MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS: “The election of Barack Obama to the presidency made these Tea Party-types lose their minds. But these Jim Crow-era tactics aren’t fooling anyone. These people are straight up trying to take away our right to vote. This isn’t about fraud or identification. It’s about black and brown people choosing a president in 2008 that they can’t stand – so now they’re trying to see to it that we can’t vote in 2012. Are we going to sit by and allow that to happen? Hell no!”
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