Voter Suppression 21st Century Style

The VIDEO BELOW stitches together excerpts from three clips on Voter Suppression from 2010 to 2020, a decade which has seen voting rights seriously rolled back from its high point in 1965’s Voting Rights Act, an Act inspired by the courage of Civil Rights Leaders like the late John Lewis, whom we lost on July 17, 2020.

On March 7, 1965, Lewis was one of the leaders of peaceful protestors who, as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, were viciously attacked by state troopers, county sheriffs, and a horse-mounted posse.  Many were injured, including Lewis, whose skull was fractured.  The incident became known as “Bloody Sunday,” and the shock and outrage of many of those watching TV coverage was one factor in the passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year on August 6th.  About 19 months earlier, on August 28, 1963, John Lewis, then just 23, had been the youngest speaker at the famous March on Washington.

The Pettus Bridge was named for Edmund Winston Pettus, a former Confederate brigadier general, leader of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan…and U.S. Senator.  This year, ten days after Lewis’ death a bill was introduced proposing to name the Voting Rights Advancement of 2019 (H.R.4) after John Lewis.  It passed the House, but though nearly every Republican in the Senate paid tribute to Lewis—known widely as “The Conscious of Congress”—only one GOP Senator voted for the bill, and it was defeated.

John Lewis speaking at the 1963 March on Washington. He was just 23.

H.R.4 sought in part to remedy the damage done by a 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County vs. Holder which struck down Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Details are in the VIDEO below, which also explains that within 24 hours of this decision three states began enacting suppressive voter ID laws.  The situation has gotten worse since then, though there have been legal victories attempting to counteract voter ID laws and other tactics meant to suppress voting, especially by people of color, the poor, and other marginalized groups.    

In April 2016, for example, the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina ruled that the state’s new voter ID laws did not place unconstitutional obstacles between the state’s residence and their voting rights.  However, three months later, on July 29th, a three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth District overturned that ruling.  Here’s a paragraph of the decision, written by Judge Diana Gribbon Motz.  It contains the now famous phrase which I’ve italicized, bolded, and underlined.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its action, the State offered only meager justifications. Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist. Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation. ‘In essence,’ as in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry (LULAC), 548 U.S. 399, 440 (2006), ‘the State took away [minority voters’] opportunity because [they] were about to exercise it.’”

Those cures for problems that did not exist include voter fraud, which does exist, though in vanishingly small numbers—perhaps, according to one study, 31 in 1 billion votes: 0.000000031%!  Still, many Americans believe fraud is “rampant.”  “Dirty Tricks: 9 Falsehoods That Could Undermine the 2020 Election,” a piece from the Brennan Center for Justice, is a good summary of false notions about the integrity of elections.

Voter suppression tactics are often presented as rational, commonsense actions to “protect the integrity of elections,” but it becomes clearer each day that racism is at the root of them. The title of Grace Panetta’s article for Business Insider seems to say it all:  “Black Americans still face obstacles to voting at every step of the process.”  This piece is a good summary of those obstacles, obstacles that dishonor the legacy of John Lewis and everyone who has placed the Right to Vote at the center of their fight for Civil Rights for everyone.


After watching the VIDEO below, dig deeper.  I’m providing three pdf’s of longer reports on partisanship, voting and democracy:  1) From the Economist Intelligence Unit — “Democracy Index 2019,” which calls the U.S. a “Flawed Democracy,” ranking it just the 25th best democracy in the world.  2)  From the Bipartisan Policy Center — “The 2018 Voting Experience,” which definitively cites race as the major factor in voter suppression.  And 3) From the Brennan Center for Justice — “The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification,” giving exhaustive details on seemingly reasonable laws which actual target specific populations to take away their voting rights. 

  Go to the TEACHING DIVERSITY main page.

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Three Things To Stop Saying (A Sermon)

ThreeThingsLike so many churches these days, mine’s been on Zoom and Facebook Live for months.  The VIDEO below shows a sermon I preached, online, in mid-June, focusing on three phrases to stop saying as we attempt to fight back against racism in the U.S.  The three are in the text box to the left.  As I have said over and over, Americans would rather talk about anything but race—anything—and these are perhaps the big three avoidance phrases of the many we use.  Some are hostile, and profane, and ultra racist, but these three sound “noble.”  I based most of this sermon on comments I made at the Laity Convocation of the United Methodist Church (Northern Illinois Conference) on February 8, 2020, weeks before the pandemic shut us down (or in), weeks before the murder of George Floyd.  I’ve detailed them in “Unpacking Racism: “Noble” Sentiments That Keep Us From Talking About Race.”

The scripture for this sermon is Luke 6:32-33, Jesus’ conclusion to his announcing the “Golden Rule” and issuing three of his hardest challenges, which he links to that Rule:  Love your enemies; Be kind to those who mistreat you; Turn the other cheek.  One of these days I’ll explore that linkage, but this morning—though I said this was no time for sound bites—all I had time for were sound bites!  So I focused on what Luke 6:32-33 implied about embracing our differences.  We love to talk about “embracing our common humanity,” but that’s one of those feel-good things to say that usually doesn’t lead anywhere, largely because it’s practically impossible to do without first accepting our differences.

???????????My 9-year-old grand daughter Grace makes a quick appearance.  I’ve been saying a lot lately that IF we work hard to fight racism, we may see a less racist U.S. in 40 to 100 years.  Afterwards, several people stayed on line to talk about what I had said.  Gene Paquette, husband of the woman who read the scripture (she goes by “Muffy”) said that it was hard to hear that timeline:  40 to 100 years.  I always capitalize and bold that IF.  In “Walmart, Pence, and Politics As Usual” I commented on what so far is not a lot to show, policy-wise, for all the protests we’ve had.  Even IF we manage to start seeing a significant turnaround in the shortest time I’ve envisioned, 40 years, Grace will be nearly 50.  I won’t see it, but hoping she and other young grand kids do, that should keep all of us working hard.

  OTHER SERMONS (most with VIDEO):  “Pentecost Means No ‘Supremacies,’” “Sacred Doing,” “Elijah: The Growth of a Prophet,” “Searching for Prophets.”  “Who Do You Stand With?,” “It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know: A Baccalaureate Sermon.”

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Walmart, Pence, and Politics As Usual

Walmart2Say what you will against Walmart—and there’s lots of negative—but on June 29, 2020, USA Today’s Charisse Jones reported:  “Walmart will stop the sale of ‘All Lives Matter’ merchandise on its website, noting that it is putting its emphasis on Black people and other people of color whose lives are being ‘impacted by ongoing racial injustice.’

“The nation’s largest retailer is removing the items which are sold by third-party sellers ‘indefinitely,’ after hearing from some employees and customers who were concerned about the meaning behind the merchandise.

“ ‘We fundamentally believe all lives do matter and every individual deserves respect,’ Walmart said in a statement. ‘However, as we listened, we came to understand that the way some, but not all, people are using the phrase “All Lives Matter” in the current environment intentionally minimized the focus on the painful reality of racial inequity.’”

In a recent sermon titled “Three Things to Stop Saying,” the first phrase I focused on was this notorious “All Lives Matter” mantra, a favorite of Americans who would rather talk about anything—anything—but race.

EmptyHanded2Walmart’s move is in stark contrast to Vice President Mike Pence’s refusal to say “Black Lives Matter,” instead opting for…“All Lives Matter.”  Of course. He’s done this over and over in the days preceding Walmart’s decision, committing a classic trifecta of old, backward moves: 1) saying BLM is a Marxist plot, 2) bringing up abortion, and 3) citing Martin Luther King, Jr. incorrectly.  In other words, BLM isn’t pointing out a fundamental flaw in our democracy—racism—but working for an outside agitator.  In other words, let’s talk about abortion instead of race.  Not that abortion isn’t an important topic, but once again, let’s talk about anything—anything—but race.  In other words, MLK Jr. would agree with me.  He wouldn’t.  We Americans easily embrace the warm-fuzzy MLK Jr.—the “I-Have-a-Dream” MLK Jr.—but not the person who was really tough on racism, injustice, and exploitation, the person who would have been one of Black Live Matter’s loudest, clearest advocates.  (See “Why I Oppose the War” on this site.)

And inevitably there’s the political establishment, of which Pence is only one cog.  It’s perhaps the biggest obstacle to true reform.  In a June 28, 2020, analysis titled “After weeks of protest, meaningful police reform seems unlikely,” CNN’s Josh Campbell reports that even in Minnesota, the epicenter of our recent racial crisis, a special legislative session has come up empty-handed. “Partisan entrenchment ruled the day,” writes Campbell, “as the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-led House clashed over nearly two-dozen policing reform measures,” including banning choke holds.  This isn’t fake news.  Even one of the more “radical” proposals, disbanding the police, will endure weeks more input and have to pass a ballot proposal in November, if it even gets on the ballot.

I’ve been writing a lot on this site recently that IF we work really hard on anti-racism it will still take 40 to 100 years to see a less racist U.S.  After my “Three Things to Stop Saying” sermon, where I again said this, several people said that was really hard to hear.  When I said this the first time most recently, on a panel at an “Unpacking Racism” convocation, another panelist said that while he respected me, he thought I was being too optimistic.  I was.  But even if the current protests seem to have come up empty-handed because of our political leaders and the politics of division, maybe all isn’t lost.  For now, and probably for at least a couple of decades, we’ll just have to go around our leaders and our politics.  Walmart’s made a move, as have many other companies, like those pulling ads from Facebook.  And our younger generations seem to want to face racism more squarely than any of the generations before, even during the Civil Rights era.  As always, our hope lies with our youth.

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