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PORTSIDE  September 2011, Week 3

PORTSIDE September 2011, Week 3

Subject:

Taking Back The Vote

From:

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Date:

Wed, 21 Sep 2011 22:25:38 -0400

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text/plain (231 lines)

Taking Back The Vote

by Terrance Heath

Campaign for America's Future
September 21, 2011

http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2011093821/taking-back-vote

One breakout session at the Take Back the American Dream
conference in Washington, DC, October 3-4, addresses an
issue that has major implications for the progressive agenda
in 2012 and beyond: "Voter Suppression and the 2012
Election: The Civil Rights Movement to Take Back the Right
to Vote." In dozens of states, Republicans are aiming to
restrict or take away the voting rights of core
constituencies of the Democratic party.

When the tea party shouts their desire to take "their
country" back, make no mistake the first thing they want to
take back is the right to vote. They don't just want to take
it back. They want to transform it, again.

Debunked claims of "voter fraud" notwithstanding, boiled
down to gravy the conservative movement to restrict voting
amounts to one chief concern: too many people are voting.
More specifically, too many of the wrong people are voting.
That's because somewhere between the nation's founding and
the 2008 election, the nature of voting changed. It was
transformed from a privilege to a right.

If tea party conservatives have their way, the right to vote
will revert back to a privilege - and one enjoyed by far
fewer people. It's easy to dismiss media motormouths like
Ann Coulter, when she says that women should not have the
right to vote, because too many of them vote Democratic
(single women, anyway). But it's a mistake to shrug off
someone like Tea Party Nation President Judson Phillips, who
thinks it would be a good idea to put "certain restrictions
on the right to vote," like restricting voting to property
owners.

Phillips claim is reminiscent of Republican attempts to use
a list of foreclosed homes to block people from voting in
the 2008 election in states like Michigan and Ohio. When
right-wing pundits like Matthew Vadum (author of the ACORN
"expose" Subversion, Inc.) and Rush Limbaugh say that the
poor shouldn't have the right to vote, they're expressing
the same sentiment. It's a manifestation of the conservative
concern that too many of the "wrong people" have too much of
a voice in politics, and too few of the "right people" have
any. That's what Paul Weyrich meant when he said to a group
of evangelical activist in 1980: "I don't want everybody to
vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections
quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."

In 2012 and beyond, tea party conservatives plan to increase
their leverage in elections by ensuring that the "right
people" have a greater voice in politics while the "wrong
people" have little to none. This is mainly color. One color
in particular, that is: Green. As Phillips, Vadum, Limbaugh
and others make clear, the "right people" are those who have
the most green; the most money, that is. Their voice in the
political process was given a big boost by the Supreme
Court's Citizens' United ruling, which opened the floodgates
to the very corporate money that finances the tea party
movement that in turn blocks campaign finance reform and
promotes the interest of its corporate sponsors.

The "wrong people," whose voting "privilege" the right is
working hard to revoke, look at lot like the coalition
helped Obama win the White House and the Democrats win the
House and Senate in 2008, and led voter turnout in 2010. As
Ari Berman detailed in his chilling report for Rolling
Stone, "The GOP War On Voting," the voting rights of
millions of Americans are under threat because conservatives
deem them the "wrong people" to be casting ballots.

    As the nation gears up for the 2012 presidential
    election, Republican officials have launched an
    unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to
    suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that
    elected Barack Obama in 2008. Just as Dixiecrats once
    used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black
    Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and
    state legislators has passed a series of seemingly
    disconnected measures that could prevent millions of
    students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the
    elderly from casting ballots. "What has happened this
    year is the most significant setback to voting rights in
    this country in a century," says Judith Browne-Dianis,
    who monitors barriers to voting as co-director of the
    Advancement Project, a civil rights organization based
    in Washington, D.C.

    Republicans have long tried to drive Democratic voters
    away from the polls. "I don't want everybody to vote,"
    the influential conservative activist Paul Weyrich told
    a gathering of evangelical leaders in 1980. "As a matter
    of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly
    goes up as the voting populace goes down." But since the
    2010 election, thanks to a conservative advocacy group
    founded by Weyrich, the GOP's effort to disrupt voting
    rights has been more widespread and effective than ever.
    In a systematic campaign orchestrated by the American
    Legislative Exchange Council - and funded in part by
    David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who
    bankrolled the Tea Party - 38 states introduced
    legislation this year designed to impede voters at every
    step of the electoral process.

    All told, a dozen states have approved new obstacles to
    voting. Kansas and Alabama now require would-be voters
    to provide proof of citizenship before registering.
    Florida and Texas made it harder for groups like the
    League of Women Voters to register new voters. Maine
    repealed Election Day voter registration, which had been
    on the books since 1973. Five states - Florida, Georgia,
    Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia - cut short their
    early voting periods. Florida and Iowa barred all ex-
    felons from the polls, disenfranchising thousands of
    previously eligible voters. And six states controlled by
    Republican governors and legislatures - Alabama, Kansas,
    South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin - will
    require voters to produce a government-issued ID before
    casting ballots. More than 10 percent of U.S. citizens
    lack such identification, and the numbers are even
    higher among constituencies that traditionally lean
    Democratic - including 18 percent of young voters and 25
    percent of African-Americans.

The GOP war on the vote doesn't stop at the ballot box. In
Pennsylvania, conservatives are toying with a scheme to
change how the state rewards its electoral votes, portioning
them out according to which candidates win each of its
congressional districts instead of awarding them to the
candidate who wins the most votes. GOP-dominated states like
Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio may follow suit. It's not just
a thinly-veiled ploy to keep Barack Obama from winning
Pennsylvania again in 2008. As with conservative noise about
repealing the 17th amendment, which would mean reverting to
senators being elected by state legislators instead of by
popular vote, it's another attempt divorce Americans from
the political process.

It's not hyperbole to compare today's war on the vote to the
Jim crow laws of the past, as Bill Clinton did, not with
voter ID laws that bear striking resemblance to the "poll
tax," and conservatives like Newt Gingrich proposing a
revival of poll tests. Jim Crow laws were themselves the
result of white southerners' post-Reconstruction efforts to
restrict the civil rights and civil liberties of African
American - both freemen and former slaves.

It's an appropriate comparison for those reasons alone, but
also because it's a reminder of what I mentioned earlier. In
the course of our nation's history, the privilege of voting
was transformed into the right to vote - a right that was
eventually extended to all Americans, regardless of race,
gender, religion, economic status, etc. It didn't happen by
accident. It was hard won, as Fannie Lou Hamer described in
her famous testimony before the credentials committee of the
1964 Democratic convention, put into context below by 
Ta-nehisi Coates.

    I briefly alluded to Fannie Lou Hamer yesterday. Hamer
    was born in Mississippi in 1917, and spent much of her
    life as a sharecropper. In 1964, in the face of constant
    threats and violence, Hamer and other activists
    organized the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. The
    thing to understand here is that in 1964, 42 percent of
    Mississippi's population was black, and virtually all of
    them had been prevented from voting since 1890. Even
    blacks, like Hamer, who could pass the literacy tests
    were kept from voting by a statewide campaign of
    intimidation.

    ...In 1964, Hamer and the Freedom Democrats came to the
    national convention and demanded to have their own
    delegation--based on open and free voting seated.
    Forgive all the back-story. Here is Hamer's testimony
    speaking before the Democratic credentials committee.
    Listen to it. It is chilling.
    
    [Fannie Lou Hamer's speech at the 1964 DNC
    http://youtu.be/_TchoKJrvFQ
    Fannie Lou Hamer speaking at the 1964 Democratic
    National Convention about the Land of the Thief, Home of
    the Slave! ]

To the tea party, "taking their country back" starts with
taking right to vote away from minorities, the poor, the
elderly, young people, etc. - the "wrong people."

For progressives, taking back the American Dream must start
with taking back and defending the right to vote. For all.

Update: While researching this post I discovered or re-
discovered something that's been brought to my attention
since publishing it: the right to vote isn't actually in the
constitution. But I'm saving that for a follow-up post.

[Terrance Heath is currently the Online Producer at Campaign
for America's Future. Previously he worked as a Blogging and
Social Media Consultant for a number of organizations and
agencies, as an outgrowth of his work as Blogmaster for
EchoDitto, Inc. "I stumbled into blogging and social media
after starting my own blog, The Republic of T., but I cut my
teeth as an activist working on LGBT equality and HIV/AIDS
issues. In that capacity I've worked for the Human Rights
Campaign and the National Minority AIDS Council."
The Republic of T. --  http://www.republicoft.com/

___________________________________________

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