It is a morning when even this part of the Sunshine State is cold and wet, and the Northeast coast is bracing for another spell of wretched weather. On the television a black man named John Lewis is talking about civil rights. He is lecturing “Morning Joe” Scarborough about the unseemly levity with which the pundits on the show are discussing voter suppression. You see, voter suppression is no joke to John Lewis. He was among the civil rights marchers in Alabama, when authorities brutally assaulted the marchers, turning tear gas, fire hoses and police dogs on them, and beating them with billy clubs.
Today, he serves in the United States Congress, a living testament to the progress America has made in the past half century. But he has a steel plate in his head to remind him of the civil rights marches, and he can see signs that the society he fought for is unraveling. Republican lawmakers in state after state have resorted to minority voter suppression in an attempt to elect Mitt Romney and bring back the “Good Old Days” before school integration, before voters’ rights, before Roe versus Wade… the “Good Old Days” when white males ruled, black people were oppressed, and women knew their place.
For weeks, we have been hearing about the new voter suppression regulations, the purging of the voter registration lists, the slashing of early voting periods, the intimidating billboards, misleading phone calls and the wrong election-day dates on information distributed to Hispanics and blacks. For days, we’ve watched as our television screens display endless lines of voters snaking around the city blocks in Florida and Ohio, waiting and waiting for a chance to exercise the precious right that people like John Lewis fought for.
Especially in minority areas, early voting restrictions are causing disruptive bottlenecks. Florida’s Republican Governor Rick Scott and Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State, Jon Husted fought the courts to cut back minorities’ access to the polls, and the result is chaotic.
It is finally Election Day, and millions have yet to vote. The television chatter is all about the turnout, and pundits are pondering the impact of voter suppression. Apparently, these oppressive restrictions have backfired, and minority voters are turning out in record numbers. From what I’ve heard, President Obama is well ahead in the early voting.
But who knows what shenanigans might occur behind the scenes? There has been talk that fixed voter machines and crooked officials could swing the election in Romney’s favor.
You would think such reports would trigger widespread outrage. Yet I’ve heard of no public outcry, no marches, no demonstrations.
A half century has come and gone since John Lewis got that plate in his head. Nobody is marching today. Nobody is singing “We Shall Overcome.”
The once-mighty trade unions have been beaten down across America, the students seem to be a more docile breed, and the “liberals” have been virtually driven from the political arena by popular disdain.
The fight seems to have gone out of the America those civil rights marchers left us. Women’s rights are under attack by Romney and the Republicans, for example, yet polls show that “52 percent of married women” favor him in this election.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is dead, his life sacrificed to the cause of human equality and human dignity. John Kennedy was gunned down. Robert Kennedy was likewise assassinated.
And sometimes I wonder if they died in vain.
Americans seem to have turned away from the ideals they embraced just a few decades ago. The spite-driven Tea Party has risen to power, taking over the conservative movement. And the country’s neo-fascist underground has grown in strength, ironically deriving energy from the election of America’s first black president in 2008.
But there is hope. Millions of Americans will stand in line today, even in the cold and the wet, determined to exercise their right to vote, the precious right that people like John Lewis won for all Americans, regardless of the color of their skin.
Perhaps this nation, created “under God,” will see our better angels prevail, after all.
For the latest on voter suppression, click here.
For a report from the civil rights era, click here.