[I originally published this piece by Heather Baum on No Stolen Democracy in January. I republish it here for the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and because it is still deeply relevant. Heather wrote "Born Again Jim Crow" last fall, when we were between the two 40th anniversary dates, mentioned, below. --BG]
by Heather Baum
Who would have thought that on the 40th anniversary of Freedom Summer and the Voting Rights Act we would be fighting for voting rights for all of America? I'm sure you understand that vote suppression is not without historic precedence. The fight for suffrage is elemental to the peoples history. In our own life times, we know this from the history of Jim Crow. A system we fought a bloody battle to bring to an end in the south. We thought it was dead. But it is not. What has happened during the last three or four election cycles is an attempt to give birth to a "born again" Jim Crow. The obvious goal is to bring it to a new era of technological sophistication and spread it throughout the country...If unchallenged this could lead to a permanent one party rule. In Minnesota, we managed to beat it back...but I believe we cannot let this stand.
Bush can not wage war around the world in the name of democracy and fail to practice it at home. What's coming out about election suppression and fraud goes way past whether it's too late to find enough votes to save Kerry. Postmortems are important, but we have a genuine opportunity to reveal the Karl Rove voter suppression strategy. Now is the time to nail the right wing anti-democracy machine to the wall. Fighting for fair elections is fundamental, not just for the future, but for the present. Bush won no mandate. Yet he has already begun to spend his "political capital" in Faluja...and this will cost millions of lives.
The true reality is voter suppression has been a long term strategy the Right has methodically applied to gain control of all four branches of government. They can not win without it and they have admitted this publicly. It is a dynamic strategy...it includes manipulation of the census count...and allowing gerrymandered redistricting. Among other things it also includes voter intimidation, stolen ballots, manipulation of mail in ballots, sending out mass mailings of unrequested absentee ballots in communities of color, mass distribution of racially sorted provisional ballots, creating 10 hour waits at the poles and finally implementation of a paperless unverifiable electronic voting system, owned by the President's supporters.
How can we know if the election is rigged if there is no paper trail? One of the reasons we won here in Minnesota is that we have a paper ballot system...we can count the votes. So to me it has gone way beyond whether Kerry won or lost. If we let this go unchallenged, not four...but two more years..(the Senate election) will come...and something will have changed...the problems will be worse...more entrenched. And then guess what?...We might have to live with Republicans in charge forever. We need to challenge the Right, fight for the vote, learn how to listen, talk to people and organize when we are doing it ...all at the same time.
The reality is that there is ample evidence not only that a totally hackable electronic voting system has been put in place but also that very massive serious voting irregularities took place on November 2nd. It seems odd to me that when you present this evidence to fair minded Republicans... they want it fixed..now. But when presented to many progressives and liberals they go into a swoon of denial... what is that about?
The Right thinks that if it says something often enough...and loud enough...that makes it true. I call that having smoke blown up your ass. The Bush Administration thinks by saying something...over and over...real loud.. they can "make us think" what they say is true. This is designed to divide the people..."progressive bashing"...used to be called "Red Baiting" in the days of Joe McCarthy...It is an old tried and true method of getting people to look the other way while someone has their hand in your pocket. We have a lot of work to do, and so I think we need to be organizing on all fronts. I choose to fight on the voting rights front, because as my Mothers daughter, and as a veteran of the Southern Freedom Movement, that is what I have done all my life. My mother and grandmothers before me fought for suffrage for all..and so do I.
How do we know that there were not enough votes cast to win, if no investigation is done? If people were wrongly prevented from voting, if legitimate votes were mis-counted or not counted at all...if we hope to ever have another fair election again... we need to know. This is a question that all fair minded people including Progressives, moderate Republicans and Libertarians want the answer to.