15 Feb New Rules Threaten Black Voting Rights
By The Rev. Al Sharpton
Special to The Movement
Even after Blacks won the right to vote after slavery, covert tactics such as poll taxes and literacy requirements purposefully excluded Blacks from many elections, especially in the South. Following the elimination of such draconian laws and the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, civil rights groups and community organizers worked tirelessly to register voters and encourage citizens to vote.
But now, in perhaps the greatest setback to voting rights since Reconstruction, we are witnessing suppression and intimidation tactics designed to once again target and silence racial minorities, the poor, young people and the elderly. Whether we live in a massive metropolis like Los Angeles or a small town in Arkansas, everyone needs to pay attention before we are barred from the very right for which so many of us died.
For years, most states accepted items such as utility bills and bank statements as forms of identification for voting. Now, a non-expired photo ID is required in several states such as Alabama, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Mississippi. Many more states have similar measures on the table, and at least five states—including notorious Florida—passed laws reducing early voting, while others are eliminating same day registration.
In 2008, all of us witnessed historic voter turnout as Blacks, Latinos, young folks and others came out in record numbers and helped propel President Obama into office. Obama inspired millions to stand in line for hours in order to participate in our democratic process.
And it’s those sheer numbers that have Republicans running scared. Because they know that they simply cannot win by playing by the rules, the right wing has resorted to bullying and modern-day poll taxes with these new voter ID laws.
In many poor and rural areas, people do not possess a photo ID like a driver’s license. They simply do not drive or own a vehicle. It is difficult to obtain even a “free” state-issued ID because it requires individuals to take off work, lose wages and find transportation to the DMV.
Whether or not we grew up in the South, most of us have family or friends who still reside there. Because these new voter ID laws are consciously targeting the South once again, all of us—regardless of where we live—should make it our duty to inform people living in those areas directly impacted by voter suppression.
We must be aware of these maneuvers. Let’s remind one another just how important voting is; let’s make sure our neighbors, family and friends are registered; and let’s make sure we get one another to the polls on Election Day.
As our nation continues to diversify and progress, let’s not for a moment think that those with regressive agendas are not plotting new ways to hold us back. After all, it may be the South primarily now, but tomorrow it could just as easily be L.A.
Editor’s Note: On Thursday, Feb. 16, the National Action Network and Rev. Al Sharpton announced the Selma to Montgomery March from March 4-9, 2012 to protest voter suppression legislation. Click here for more details.