Stand up for voting rights

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(NNPA)—At the heart of a democracy is the fundamental right to vote. Yet for Black Americans, especially, the right to vote is historically blood-soaked and sacred. We paid a heavy price to get the right to vote. But it is not just a legal right; it is also a moral responsibility to vote given the tremendous sacrifice by so many of our fore parents that successfully waged a tireless struggle to dismantle American apartheid. Today for more than 45 million Black people in the United States, we cannot afford to take for granted this important civil right and civic responsibility.

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I strongly urge support for the NAACP’s “Stand For Freedom” national campaign against voter suppression in America. Benjamin Todd Jealous, NAACP president and CEO, is taking the right courageous leadership on this critical issue. Jealous emphasized, “It’s been more than a century since we’ve seen such a tidal wave of assaults on the right to vote. Historically, when voting rights are attacked, it’s done to facilitate attacks on other rights. It is no mistake that the groups who are behind this are simultaneously attacking very basic women’s rights, environmental protections, labor rights, and educational access for working people and minorities.”

The NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund just issued a report entitled, “Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America.” The national study “details a plethora of voter suppression initiatives, most of them pushed in states with large African-American populations and where voting turnout has surged.” The forces of repression have been hard at work. From the very moment in the aftermath of the election of Barack H. Obama to be President of the United States, there has been a systematic attempt to suppress and prevent another large voter turnout from the African-American community together with other communities of color.

The 2012 elections will be the most important elections in our lifetime. The strength of the struggle today to protect voting rights will in part be determined by how strong a grassroots movement is built in all of the states where Blacks and Latinos make up from 30 to $40 percent of the voting age population. Racial discrimination is always found to most acute in those states and areas of the nation where the percentage of the Black population is the highest. We must be vigilant concerning these attacks. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asserted years ago, “An injustice any where is a threat to justice everywhere.”

More than 25 different measures have already been passed by state legislatures in at least 14 states that will restrict or prohibit the voting rights of African-American and Latino American voters. Some of these repressive and counterproductive measures include: Restrictions to early voting: the early voting period has been reduced in a number of states. This will mostly affect Black voters, as research shows African-Americans have been much more likely to take advantage of early voting. They accounted for 22 percent of early voters during the 2008 general election in Florida; Restrictions to voters with felony convictions: Two states (Florida and Iowa) adopted measures that prohibit persons convicted of felonies from voting for life, whilst others restrict felons for voting for a number of years after their convictions; Residency restrictions: some states have increased the amount of time a citizen must live in a state in order to be entitled to vote. This particularly affects African-Americans and Hispanics, as they are more likely to move from state-to-state, and are therefore less likely to have lived in there for the required length of time; and, tighter restrictions to voter registration: requiring citizens to have photo-ID, with documentary proof of their citizenship. Some states will not accept student ID, even if issued by the state, whilst those elderly voters who were born during the time of legalized racial segregation, and who were therefore not issued with birth certificates, will also have difficulties at election time.

According to the New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice, an estimated five million Black, Latino and other voters could potentially be prevented from voting in the 2012 elections if we do not challenge and change these retrogressive attacks of our voting rights. Thus, the outcome of the next critical national election is completely at stake surround this situation. We are not making enough protest and noise about these new Jim Crow attacks. Let’s stand up, speak out, and take appropriate action. We support the voting rights demonstration at the United Nations led by the NAACP and other civil rights and labor organizations. Stand for freedom, justice, equality and empowerment everyday everywhere!

(Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is senior advisor for the Black Alliance for Educational Options and President of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network.)

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