Today the United States Supreme court reduced the Voting Rights act to a level that will allow states to impose whatever voting provision they desire without any oversight. I’ve downloaded the entire decision and am getting ready to read the whole document but when I first heard this my reaction was dismay and disbelief. How could we be trying to turn the times back and allow voter intimidation or discrimination the tiny crack it needs through which to overthrow the South like Kudzu? And I doubt it will be just the South.
I guess I should not have been surprised given the recent mind-blowing changes made by our NC Governor, legislature and Art Pope. Things like striking ‘of America’ from bills which originally stated, in multiple places, ‘the United States of America’. Bills to eliminate teachers aids in public schools which means our education system gets cut just as much as funding for the arts (both of which have an impact on me, my family, and other friends.) But why? Why would the Supreme Court make such a ruling? Most of the media, and I voted Republican in every presidential election starting with Reagan’s first term so don’t dismiss my thoughts as coming from some left-wing liberal as conservatives often do, will tell you that it’s not that big a deal, the statistics needed to be updated, a law adjusting for changes in demographics will get passed, yada, yada,yada.
We know that Supreme Court decisions are notoriously difficult to retract and that there is little, if any, coöperation between our two esteemed political parties today. So if this change remains and states can make any law they like about voter restrictions what is to keep them from making voting available only to those who own property – which used to be the case in many states. My female friends, remember, we’ve had the right to vote for less than 100 years. Who is to say that states can’t, and won’t, enact legislation that impinges on not just minority voters, but voters of a certain age (impacting the elderly), or of a certain sexual persuasion (impacting citizens of the USA and states within it who are GLBT), or of a particular gender (say women). As you may, or may not know depending on which versions of history you were taught, state’s rights were the impetus for the Civil War.
It amazes me that I’m seeing all this in my country and state as I’m reading a biography on Nelson Mandela and thinking no wonder they had so much upheaval in his county. Just a few excerpts that have come to mind today:
“In 1913 the government put forward legislation prohibiting Africans from purchasing or leasing land outside designated areas designated as Native preserves, ….The impact of the Natives’ Land Act of 1913 was felt almost immediately outside the reserves, where nearly a million Africans lived as tenants, sharecroppers and labour tenants on white-owned land. It was particularly severe in the Orange Free State, where sharecroppers, who for years had earned a living by giving half of their produce to white farmers in exchange for land, were summarily evicted. ….A whole class of prosperous farmers was eventually destroyed…..The ultimate humiliation came in 1936, when African voters were struck from the common roll in the Cape Province, losing a right they had held for more than eighty years. In exchange for the loss of their franchise, they were given a separate roll which allowed them to vote for three white representatives to speak on their behalf in the House of Assembly and four white members of the Senate.”
Having come from a family only two generations away from share cropping in Yadkin County and having a grandmother that never owned her own land or learned to read or write this passage really caught my attention. The references to ‘Native Reserves’ and ‘Rolls’ also had a personal connotation for me since I have Cherokee Indian on both sides of my family and recently found out I was a descendant of Pocahontas. In case you’ve never tried to research Native American ancestors, the Rolls were used to count Native Americans living on reservations when the 10-year census was taken for the rest of the country.
But there is an even more disturbing passage in the Mandela biography that I believe strikes at the heart of the desire to change voting privileges in the United States of America today. “In 1946, after the squatters exodus from Orlando had begun [squatting was a reaction to the restrictions from the 1913 law], two of Mandela’s closest friends, Ismail Meer and Jaydew Singh, joined hundreds of other Indian volunteers who were protesting against new legislation restricting rights to land purchase and residence, resulting in their arrest and imprisonment. The protesters included doctors, lawyers, teachers, traders, students, and even a seventeen-year-old school boy, Ahmed Kathrada, who was to become another of Mandela’s closest friends. The legislation, denounced by Indians as a ‘Ghetto Act’ for prohibiting them from owning property outside designated areas, had been introduced by the government in response to an increasingly vociferous white clamour against Indian ‘penetration’ of white areas in Natal and the Transvaal.”
What causes strife between groups of differing races, religions, gender, etc.? In my opinion it’s caused by misunderstanding, limited knowledge, greed, and fear. In a country such as ours today where there are limited, if any, attempts to understand each other we may not be far from sliding back in time. It seems ironic to me that at a time when Paula Deen is criticized for making racial slurs and comments we could even consider such law changes. But then we often say one thing and behave differently. I remember as a teenager I quit going to church because I began to see people outside the environs of services participating in things they denounced on Sundays and Wednesdays. Later, I went back to the church and eventually discovered that not much had changed in the thirty years between. As a Christian I was unable to accept the prosperity gospel, the entertainment bent, and the lack of compassion and understanding.
My hope is that Mr. Mandela does not have to see the country that once lauded his efforts descend into the same oppression and bigotry he fought against. This law change could be a very big deal. I’ll let you know if, after reading the whole document (which you can obtain at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/25/voting-rights-decision_n_3434772.html) , my initial fears and disappointments are calmed any.