The emergence of Barack Obama as a prominent political figure inspired African American voters in 2008 to turn out in higher numbers than ever before, closing the gaps in voter turnout. The implication is that the racial divide in American has ‘evaporated’ and that we have moved to an America beyond race. This single instance has been the fuel for right wing white ruling class to achieve the goal that they have long been working for: To remove the protective voting rights for African Americans, the same protective measures that culminated in such a successful turnout in 2008.
The ruling class is fighting tooth and nail to keep their power and control and achieve the America that they want by any means necessary. As our society becomes more litigious, this ruling class will not simply deny someone the right to vote. That’s too 20th century. Now they will be discrete, savvy, and cunning to navigate through legal technicalities to achieve the ultimate results that they want. They will re-draw voting districts to break apart communities and prevent collective voting power, or to change voter requirements and procedures that ultimately lead to lower voting rates and opportunities for people of color. They would require voters to produce a state-issued IDs, when those IDs are difficult to obtain due to proximity to and ID-issuing facility, cost of ID, etc.
In the Jim Crow Post-Reconstruction Era (1870s – 1950s), the ruling class employed a number of tactics ranging from legally mandated literacy tests to lynchings to shape elections to fit their needs. In response, the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed to restore and protect voting rights. The central pillars are Sections 4 and 5 with Section 4 detailing how to identify problematic districts and Section 5 dictating how the federal government would intervene. Of course corrupt legislators were not happy with this and have been trying to find a way around the Voting Rights Act for decades. These attempts were repeatedly thwarted under the purview of Sections 4 & 5.
In 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that Section 4 of the Voting Rights act was unconstitutional, which resulted in section 5 becoming immobilized.What does this mean? That states, counties and cities that have historically discriminated and undermined equal voting power and rights could now make legislative changes without any prior approval from the federal government. In the words of Justice Ginsberg:
Throwing out pre-clearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.(Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. _____2013)
The truth is that we are not yet beyond race in America. And removing protective legislation now, I would argue, puts us in a worse situation than that of the Jim Crow Post-Reconstruction Era. This is because while the hearts of the ruling class of politicians and corporate leaders remain afflicted by hate, bigotry, and classism we are deceived into thinking that there is no longer any danger.
The good news is that advocates and organizations like The Brennan Center, The Advancement Project, Legal Defense and Educational Fund, ACLUand Election Protection among others are working to keep voters informed, protect their rights,and to organize communities and volunteers to ensure that all Americans have equal opportunity and power to shape our society.
by Andrés E. Villalon, Organizational Change Management degree candidate at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy