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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

The Movie'Selma' - And Its Modern Message

Category: Voting
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.
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Thinking of Selma

Category: Voting
Posted: 01/19/15 21:26

by Dave Mindeman

(Reprint of a post I made on April 7th, 2009. I had just returned from a vacation in which we visited historical sites from the Civil Rights Era. It is appropriate for MLK Day and the recent release of the movie - "Selma". As I ponder the Supreme Court decision to reverse many of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act, it is hard not to think about the Edmund Pettus Bridge.)

The Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma, Alabama. It's not a huge structure. It isn't a marvel of engineering. It doesn't hover over a large river. Under normal circumstances, this bridge wouldn't attract the slightest bit of extra attention.

But this bridge has blood buried in its asphalt. It muffles the shouts of anger...the cries of despair. Its crossing may have moved the nation to recognize disenfranchised rights.

1965. Selma has become a fulcrum point for voting rights in Alabama....even the entire South. Why Selma? Because Selma has a black populace that is tired of being held back. The county has 15,000 eligble African-American voters....156 are registered. This dismal record has the attention of the Justice Dept.... and it gets the attention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, headed by Dr. King.

Of particular interest is the brutal enforcement tactics of Sherrif Jim Clark. Martin Luther King decides to test the limits of his non-violent resistance. Selma becomes the means to the broader end.

Marches and sit-ins and registration attempts are thwarted by the police. But then word came from nearby Marion, AL that a young demonstrator -- Jimmy Lee Jackson-- was fatally shot trying to protect his grandfather. The anger led to a push for a march...a march from Selma to Montgomery to take their grievances directly to the Governor.

On March 7th, 1965 the march to Montgomery began. It reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Route 80 and as the marchers reached the middle crest of the bridge, they looked over the top and, as John Lewis put it, "we saw a sea of blue". It was police officers from the Alabama State Police, backed up by the Selma police on horseback.

The marchers reached the police position and asked to speak to the person in charge. Instead they were given an order to disperse. When they did not, the police just moved in and the waves of troopers simply ran over the stunned marchers. They beat them with night sticks, shocked them with cattle prods, ran over them with the horses. They moved them back and then followed them into the town. It was brutal...and for a climactic moment, the onlookers that were sympathetic to the marchers were enraged enough for retaliation.

But, the leadership representing Dr. King, begged them to hold back. They had to stand fast to their non-violent principles. The world would know where the high ground lay.

A few weeks later, Federal troops were called in for protection. The march would go forward....and the group of 300 in Selma swelled to 25,000 by the time it reached Montgomery.

Governor Wallace refused to even recognize the march. The gathering in front of the Capitol became a rally for voting rights. And it was noticed. Later that year the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed in Congress.

Registration for African-Americans skyrocketed in every southern state. And it all really began in Selma....at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

We walked that bridge ourselves today. We had just visited the small Voting Rights Museum on the street that runs across the entrance to the Bridge. We saw the images of "Bloody Sunday" and those pictures stayed with us as we crossed to the other side. The traffic on the bridge is heavy, but on the other side is a quiet riverside park. A contrast to all the noise and bustle moving past.

A lot happened here 40 plus years ago, but the city hasn't gone out of its way to commemorate these events. We stopped at a Visitor's Center/Library/Chamber of Commerce. We had noticed that there was a new building being built on the other side of the river that seemed to indicate it was part of the Voting Rights Museum. We asked the person at the desk about it....but she told us, "Yes, I noticed that last week when I went to Montgomery. They must be setting up a new location." The building is nearly completed, yet she knew little about it....and she operates the visitor center.

We drove the 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery. Most of the route is the same as the marchers took. There are a few markers with one large visitor center about halfway through. They offer a beautifully done half hour film about the events and eyewitness accounts. But little else has been done to let visitors know they are even on the right road.

When we reached Montgomery, we drove to the Capitol. One block away from the building is the Dexter Street Baptist Church where Martin Luther King was the pastor from 1954 to 1960. We walked up the steps of the capitol and looked back over Dexter Ave. It must have been an impressive sight to see 25,000 people coming to demand a basic American right.

We opened the Capitol door and we were greeted by an older gentleman in a uniform sitting by a desk. He asked us where we were from and we told him Minnesota....

"What brings you all the way to Alabama?"

"We are on a Civil Rights Tour".

(crickets, crickets)

Finally, he gave us a Capitol map and told us it was a self-guided tour...pointing out a couple of things and then he moved on to the next family.

I guess I should have had a clue by the Jefferson Davis statue sitting on the front steps with a list of the Confederate States engraved around it. And the 30 foot mural of Governor George Wallace with a similar size portrait of his wife, Lurleen Wallace in the rotunda, was probably another clue.

I guess "civil" rights are in the eye of the beholder.

But the brave people that crossed that Edmund Pettis Bridge won their battle and made this country more just.....they also put Selma on the map, whether the current citizens of Selma like it or not.
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If Its About Voting, Then It Must Be About Photo ID

Category: Voting
Posted: 07/10/14 12:38

by Dave Mindeman

The Kahn/Noor primary contest has been stirring up some debate about voting and photo ID. But as often happens with these things, the political rhetoric doesn't match the problem.

This all centers around a Post Office box service at 419 Cedar Ave S...which is used by a number of Somali's who move often or don't really have a permanent address.

But instead of some broad "conspiracy" to get more voting access, it boils down to this....

Hennepin County Elections Manager Ginny Gelms said when someone changes his or her address through the postal service, an obscure state law requires the county auditor to update the person's address in the voter records.

This isn't something sinister. It is just a quirk in our voting regulations meant to offer convenience for the voter. Since your voting registration is supposed to be updated when you change addresses, this automatic notification is meant to save you the step of contacting someone about your voting address change. It also helps the state keep up to date information for registration.

In the Cedar Ave situation, this aroused suspicion because of how the Post Office box service is used. Again, nothing sinister or conspiratorial - just a matter of how things work in the Somali community.

This is getting straightened out with notifications and the address in question will require follow up when it appears. Done.

Except for one thing. The Republicans seem to think that this is another of their "myriad of reasons" for a Photo ID law. GOP candidate for Secretary of State Dan Severson had to sound the "alarm"....

"The Democrats are really giving this to us on a silver platter," Republican Dan Severson told a group of Republicans at the opening of a party campaign office in Eagan. Severson, who is making a second run for secretary of state, is a strong backer of requiring people to show a photo ID before they can vote. He says Kahn's complaint proves the photo ID requirement is needed.

And why would that be?....

"When she turns around and requires a photo ID to have people endorse her, you have to say, 'what's up, how come all of a sudden?' And then when the early voting starts and she's complaining that there are 130 people that are voting from one particular address and she doesn't think that's right, she's starting to sound like a Republican," Severson said.

It apparently seems obvious to Severson but in actuality none of this applies to his premise.

Photo ID would be of little benefit to this situation - in fact, it would confuse things all the more. Obviously, your driver's license would be the Photo ID in use, but for a person that changes addresses frequently, how would a driver's license be of any value? Yes, your picture would be on it but what are the odds that the address would be correct? The voter registration list would be much more up to date than the license because of the rule discussed above.

Severson doesn't offer any details or explanations - because, I would guess, he doesn't know. He does what every Republican does - if you talk about voting, the solution is always Photo ID.

Which for this particular Cedar Ave situation, it is not a solution at all.
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