Posted: 01/26/15 12:21
by Dave Mindeman
I saw the movie "Selma" last night - powerful movie, I recommend it to all. In the opening scene, Oprah Winfrey plays a middle age black woman sitting in an empty waiting room. A white clerk calls her name and she steps forward with her paper work. She is going to register to vote. She hands the clerk the papers and says - "I have it right this time" - to which the clerk sneers and replies that he will be the "judge" of that.
After glancing through the papers, he looks up and says, "recite the preamble to the US Constitution". An exercise that I and a lot of people would have trouble getting through. But the woman recites it verbatim. Not satisfied, the clerk asks another question...."how many county judges are there in Alabama" - again, she gives the correct answer. The clerk, looking a little frustrated, stares at her and gives a final challenge - "name 'em". The woman looks down at the floor, takes her papers back and simply walks away, while the clerk smiles smugly.
We seem to have forgotten the obstacles that were put in the way of African-American voters. We forget that in Selma, in 1965, black voters outnumbered whites, but the voter rolls were 99% white and 1% black.
After the Selma protests, which resulted in the deaths and beatings of people simply wishing to legally attain their right to enter a voting booth, Lyndon Johnson and Congress were almost shamed into passing the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
But, really, how far have we come?
The Supreme Court seems to have decided that we have come far enough. They struck down the special provisions that forced southern states to allow equal access...(just think about that a second - we had to pass a law to allow our own citizens to be able to vote in a democracy). The Supreme Court (at least 5 members of that court) believe that discrimination in voting is a thing of the past...an archaic remnant of times long past.
But what does the evidence tell you?
In state after state, new laws, new obstacles, are being placed in the path of citizens who simply want to pull a lever and indicate their preference on the leaders that get chosen. Voter ID laws are the new poll tax...the new questionairre....the new paper work maze.
Somehow, we have allowed politicians to pick the voters instead of the other way around.
It isn't blatant discrimination like we had in the 1960's South. But it is still discriminatory obstruction. It is still a targeted attempt to disenfranchise whole groups of people.
I have never understood why there is this fear that allowing everyone to exercise the democratic right to vote will somehow instigate some intolerable outcome.
It is a democracy, is it not? We still believe in the "will of the people" do we not?
Selma is a powerful reminder of what we have had to endure to insure the right to vote. But it is also a powerful reminder that we cannot let those same obstructionist demons find their way into our system again.
The Voting Rights Act needs to be renewed - and maybe it is time that we "vote" in a Congress that understands the need for those rights and is willing to protect those rights forever.