Saturday, July 6, 2013

Have we become complacent?

Last week, social media was abuzz with chatter about the B.E.T. Awards, Being Mary Jane and whether Beyonce was again pregnant. Yet, there was little chatter about a landmark piece of legislation that was gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down (many say gutted) a large portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This landmark legislation was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. The Act was implemented to overcome legal barriers that prevent African-Americans from voting under the 15th Amendment of the Constitution.

As a little refresher on the pertinent point, The 13th Amendment (1865) abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. The 14th Amendment was enacted in 1868 and granted citizenship rights to emancipated slaves. It said that if states don't give voting rights to black men, they cannot then count them as part of the population for purposes of gaining seats in the House of Representatives. (Women did not gain the right to vote in the U.S. until the 19th Amendment in 1920.) Southern states vigorously and violently opposed the right of black men to vote, yet they wanted representation in Congress.

In 1870, the 15th amendment was ratified. It stated that voting rights in states cannot be withheld on the basis of race, color and previous position of servitude. Despite the ratification of the 15th Amendment, southern states still fought giving the ability to vote to black men. They instituted poll taxes and literacy tests for black men. White people were "grandfathered" in and did not have to take such tests or pay poll taxes. This was the impetus to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Voting Rights Act was a landmark act. It prohibited "states from imposing any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure ... to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color." This is the Act that was gutted (by a vote of 5-4) by the Supreme Court.

During the run-up to the 2012 Presidential Election, many states attempted to enact "Voter ID" laws. This is the 21st Century version of the old poll taxes. Realizing that the minority will soon by the majority and that this new majority more and more votes Democrat, Republicans had to find a new way to deter and dis-enfranchise voters. The various voter id laws are one way to do this. Another is the re-districting that is going on in many southern states. Without the protection of The Voting Rights Act, in its entirety, many blacks and people of color will be unable to vote. Failing to attract minorities and many young people to their party, the extreme Right is seeking other means to disenfranchise voters of color.

Of course, Congress and the Legislature can pass new legislation to enact new law, but with the Republicans fighting tooth and nail, it will be an uphill battle.

Young people need to learn the history and become involved in the process. Rather than worrying about whether Beyonce is again pregnant or discussing 50 Cent's latest troubles with the law or who won what award at the B.E.T. Awards, get involved in what affects your future. Learn your history and HIStory.

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