by Daryl Gale

Pennsylvania Republicans have managed to take an imaginary problem—voter fraud—and fix it with a real solution—voter suppression.

Yes, suppression. If you think there’s anything more to the Voter ID bill than a conscious, deliberate effort to keep likely Democratic voters away from the polls, you’re sadly mistaken.

Governor Tom Corbett signed H.B. 934 March 14, just after the state House approved it, making the commonwealth the sixteenth state to pass such legislation. The bill, which passed in the Senate last week, was approved by the House in a 104-88 vote, dividing members along partisan lines.

“This is nothing more than an attempt by Republican leadership to keep seniors, minorities and low-income citizens from their constitutional right to vote,” said Rep. Ron Waters, head of the Legislative Black Caucus, who voted against the law. “Pennsylvania will have the distinction of moving backwards with this discriminatory bill. It is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and it will eventually be overturned at taxpayer expense.”

Seniors, Blacks, Latinos and college students— those least likely to possess a valid state photo ID—also just happen to constitute a significant portion of the Democratic Party base. And nothing, I mean nothing in this world, is more important to Republicans than (a) getting President Obama out of the White House, and (b) making sure no other dark-skinned heathen ever gets similar high and mighty ideas. Ever.

Their solution? Take America back—back to the 1950s.

The bill’s sponsor was our old enemy Daryl Metcalfe of Butler County. You remember Metcalfe. He’s the guy who featured life-sized Obama targets for his gun-toting pals to shoot at during a political fundraiser. He’s also the guy who seems determined to kick anyone who speaks Spanish out of the state. If there is ever a bill in Harrisburg calling for separate water fountains for “coloreds” and the criminalization of interracial marriage, look for Metcalfe’s name to be on it.

What’s next? Fire hoses? Police dogs? Is there no limit to their tactics when it comes to keeping “you people” away from the polls? Now they’re just shamelessly taking their cues from Alabama’s George Wallace and Bull Connor, circa 1960.

Never forget what the heart of the Civil Rights Movement was all about—the sacred right to vote, to exercise the American franchise, to change our circumstances by becoming full partners in the process. That’s why they braved the fire hoses and the batons in Mississippi and Alabama. That’s why Medgar Evers was shot in the back in his own driveway by a cowardly white supremacist, murdered in front of his wife and children.

And now, the Republicans think your memory is so short, and your apathy so overwhelming, that you’ll just sit there and watch them roll back 60 years of struggle for human dignity without lifting a finger. They’re counting on you to do nothing while they spit on Medgar’s grave.

If that thought doesn’t spur you to action, nothing will. We need to look at this as a rallying cry—a chance to shake off the complacency that leads to the paltry 15 to 20 percent voter turnout in our communities. Every four years some politician tells us “this is the most important election in our lifetime.” Mostly it’s empty rhetoric, but this time it happens to be true.

This is the most important election in our lifetime—even more important than 2008. Because this time, we’re not just electing the first Black president—we’re making sure that the next Black president has a chance to compete on a level playing field. We’re fighting for more than one man’s ascension to high office, we’re fighting for the next generation’s chance to stand on his shoulders.

From now until November, we will make this a priority. We will publish details of the bill, and information on where to get your free state-issued ID before Election Day. We’ll do everything in our power to see that this voter suppression tactic fails miserably.

The “back of the bus” days are over—our civil rights have been fully paid for with buckets of blood and a river of tears. It’s high time someone informed Metcalfe, Corbett and their Republican colleagues of that.

And one more word about Evers. When he was assassinated in his driveway on that night in June 1963, he was on his way home from an NAACP meeting. As he crawled the 30 feet to his front door, bleeding to death, he was still clutching the armful of NAACP T-shirts he was carrying.

The t-shirts read, “Jim Crow Must Go.”

(Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune’s city editor.)

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