The conservative movement’s war against democracy in America has erupted on two fronts within the last month in ways that sharply illuminate the threat to many Americans’ rights – especially their right to vote in many states this November.
First, less than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of same-sex couples to marry, recent anti-LGBT laws hurriedly enacted in North Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi, while ostensibly aimed just at transgendered individuals, actually have a much broader intent: to undermine the laws and regulations banning discrimination against bisexuals, gays and lesbians as well.
Proponents of the measures, and similar ones under consideration in other states, claim they’re not discriminatory but merely seek to protect individuals’ “religious freedom” – “to stop,” as Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant put it, “the government from interfering with people of faith who are exercising their religious beliefs.”
Of course, that dodge – using an asserted religious faith to justify discrimination – was a pillar of the vicious legalized racism Black Southerners endured during the long reign of Jim Crow. So, this scenario of continued widespread resistance among conservatives to a Supreme Court decision expanding democracy should seem familiar.
Indeed, the story of the stalwart, nonviolent struggle Black Americans waged from the 1940s to the mid-1960s to gain that fundamental marker of citizenship, the right to vote, is especially important to remember today, both in considering the new anti-LBGT reaction and on its own merits.
In the latter decades, Blacks and their allies among other American had to overcome the hydra-headed “massive resistance” of Southern segregationists, who used fear-mongering, political subterfuge, economic intimidation and outright physical violence to try to continue their evil regime.
Many Americans thought that struggle had been won forever with the enactment of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). But the remarkable progress the law produced was shadowed by irrefutable proof that massive resistance to racial inclusion had not disappeared. Instead, adopted in the mid-1960s by its new advocates, the Republican Party, it had just shape-shifted into more cloaked, seemingly race-neutral forms.
Those innumerable, continual attempts to undermine the voting law were stymied – until the Supreme Court’s conservative majority in 2013 struck down the VRA’s key protective provision. The result: an intensifying of GOP-controlled state legislatures’ efforts to enact laws and voting procedures intended to limit the number of eligible black and Hispanic voters who actually get to vote.
This GOP-driven campaign of massive resistance has nothing to do with protecting the voting process. It has everything to do with preserving white conservative rule, especially now that the American population is becoming more and more racially and ethnically diverse.
For example, it’s no coincidence that two of the most significant voting rights cases since the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision come from Texas, where the state’s Hispanic population will soon surpass that of Whites. The sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia – which dashed conservative expectations of another anti-democratic voting rights ruling from the Court in one of the Texas cases – will undoubtedly ratchet up conservative campaigns to block voters of color, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic, from getting to the ballot boxes.
The massive election-day crisis on Arizona’s primary election day last month that left voters in the state’s Democratic-leaning areas waiting for hours to vote underscores what could happen this November in the more than 30 states whose Republican-controlled legislatures have enacted various kinds of voting restrictions in recent years.
In Arizona state Republican officials, saying they needed to cut costs, reduced the number of polling places in the significantly minority districts of Phoenix from the 200 in place for the 2012 election to just 60. The reduction meant that there was one polling place for every 21,000 voters in those areas – compared with one polling place for every 2,500 voters in the rest of the state, which is overwhelmingly Republican.
Democratic Party officials and the campaigns of both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have challenged the state’s primary elections actions in court. Their lawsuit seeks, among other things, to force state officials to increase the number of polling places throughout the affected districts in time for the November election.
As the blatant voter-suppression tactics employed in Arizona indicate, the right to vote of a significant number of Americans’ living in GOP-controlled states could be threatened this November. According the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, 8 of the 12 states that experienced the largest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010 have enacted new restrictive voting laws since 2010, as have 7 of the 11 states with the highest African-American voter turnout in the 2012 elections.
In other words, the conservative movement’s massive resistance against voting rights is as fierce as their use of it against LGBT rights. That fact underscores one of the most important lessons of African-American history: Just because you achieve significant victories now and then does not mean the struggle is over.
Lee A. Daniels, a former reporter for The Washington Post and the New York Times, is also a former editor of The National Urban League’s The State of Black America. He is a keynote speaker and author whose books include Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America. He is writing a book on the Obama years and the 2016 election. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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