Defying Voter Suppression

Long Lines 2

 

 

 

My heart sang and my spirit soared when, on Super Tuesday, the media covered stories about the long lines at polling places.

It’s called voter suppression, and black people have had to deal with it for some time. In the absence of poll taxes, literacy tests, and things like reciting the Constitution from memory and/or being asked how many jelly beans are in a huge jar, more sophisticated methods of voter suppression have become more and more common.

Voting officials say – and have always said – that long lines “are due to a number of factors,” but part of the reason for the long lines is the lack of working voting machines or too few machines for the number of people expected to vote.

Rep. Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor of Georgia, points the ways that voter suppression is practiced in this country. Her video, “Fair Fight,” does an excellent job of showing all of the tactics used in Georgia – and presumably in other states – to keep people from voting. (https://www.npr.org/2020/02/20/807665148/stacey-abrams-spearheads-campaign-against-voter-suppression) (https://www.bravenewfilms.org/suppressed)

Among the tactics highlighted are long lines, most of which are found in black and brown neighborhoods. People in those neighborhoods have typically stood in line for hours, sometimes for so long that they give up. They have to go home to get medicine or leave to pick up children, or …go to work, because if they miss a day of work they do not get paid.

In addition, with the closing of polling places, the long lines become even more problematic, because people are forced to travel increased distances, out of their neighborhoods, making them have to take into consideration to and from the voting booths in addition to trying to get their children to daycare and then get themselves to work.

But black and brown people are tired of being walked over and being denied the right to vote by such tactics. A friend of mine wrote that black people are “used” to this type of voter suppression, and are advised to take folding chairs, sunscreen, pack lunches and their medicine, and whatever else they need to do in order to cast their ballots. A man who works two jobs who on Tuesday stood in line for 7 hours, said he wasn’t going to leave, in spite of the long wait. (https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/politics/election-2020/2020/03/04/362610/its-worth-it-the-last-person-in-line-at-tsu-waited-six-hours-to-vote-on-super-tuesday/) (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2020/03/04/super-tuesday-texas-man-waits-six-hours-vote/4952084002/)

The reports that long lines were experienced in white neighborhoods are significant; whenever black and brown people experience a shortcoming of democracy, the reaction of the public is generally lukewarm, but when white people experience the same situation, there is considerable more outcry. Such was the case, it seems, on Tuesday. (https://www.propublica.org/article/these-voters-had-to-wait-for-hours-it-felt-like-a-type-of-disenfranchisement)

The efforts to keep people who typically vote Democratic are only going to increase. Studies have shown that people classified as “minority,” be that in reference to gender, race, sexual orientation, economic status, and more, tend to vote Democratic. Efforts are made to keep them out of the process, in defiance of the 15th Amendment, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Lawmakers who say that this a country of the rule of law fail to mention that what they mean is that “the law” matters as long as it does not threaten their power. In the quest for achieving or keeping power, “the law” means little.

But that reality should not stop black and brown people, and others who vote Democratic, to step up their defiance of voter suppression tactics. It’s almost like people have to have a “voting preparedness” regiment set up, as a country should have an “emergency preparedness” program in place to deal with unexpected disasters. Being prepared is a smart move, something necessary, it seems, to fight amoral, immoral, and unjust tactics to keep people from voting.

So, we in our neighborhoods should talk about what we may face and get ready, because all elections matter, but the fall elections matter perhaps more than they have in a while. On the local and national level, it will be voters who protect the rights and interests of people who too many people seem not to care about.

A candid observation …

 

A Presidency Which is Making the Nation Ill

             When news surfaced that the US Justice Department intervening in the sentencing of Roger Stone, asking (demanding?) that his sentence be reduced, a friend of mine wrote, “this government is stressing me out. I am resorting to eating, I mean, overeating, to try to cope. I need help.”

She is not the only one. One friend said she has a headache all of the time; another said she is drinking more wine than usual. Yet another said, “I feel like I am a tightly wound coil, getting tighter all the time.”

What is bothering people is this administration’s flagrant disregard for and disrespect of “the rule of law.” People who once felt protected by America’s system of government no longer feel that way. They are frustrated and frightened because none of the institutions in place that were supposed to assure that America’s democracy never descends into Fascism or some variation of that system are working.

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The fear and frustration of people are helped along by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Attorney General William Barr, as well as the GOP which is shuffling meekly behind their leadership, in effect sanctioning the breakdown of this government.

The smirk which Leader McConnell displayed after the president’s acquittal was hard to see, but it’s probably fair to say that it is a smirk that African Americans have seen and experienced for generations in this country. While some of my white friends are appalled at what they have described as the trashing of justice, my African American friends take the deep breaths we have always had as justice has eluded us. The white idea and ideal of “justice” have never applied to black people. The “justice system” has never been concerned with making sure black people get justice for the wrongs done by individuals, corporations, or governments. The trauma that the lack of justice has caused has been passed down through generations. Studies have shown that internalized trauma, especially if it is repetitive, produces physiological, emotional, and sociological effects. (https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/10/trauma-inherited-generations/573055/) In order to survive, black people have had to learn to cope, to swallow deeply and keep breathing every time they have not gotten justice, but white people, especially those who believed in the purity of justice, have not built up those political antibodies. We are all suffering; I would suppose that white people are suffering even more.

What is different now is that many white people are now feeling what it feels like to be walked over by the justice system. Some white people are appalled and disturbed – and traumatized – as they are watching the attorney general of the United States help a president circumvent the law, helped along by the Senate. This president is getting away with butchering the very concept of “justice” as he chips away at the “rule of law.”

The things that he has been accused of – lying, sexual impropriety, engaging the help of an enemy of this country to win an election – were once things that would have spelled doom for a sitting president, but not this one, and the people who love the idea of justice are watching, appalled, troubled, and worried.

What this makes one ask is, “what now?” School children are mimicking and imitating the words, the spirit, and the behavior of the president. Non-white children are being bullied. White school teachers are feeling emboldened to let their biases show. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/local/school-bullying-trump-words/) (https://www.mediaite.com/news/stunning-report-reveals-hundreds-of-child-bullies-have-used-trumps-racist-and-xenophobic-words-to-attack-other-kids/

Police are continuing to engage in the behavior which has traumatized black people for generations, using their power with a sense of entitlement. (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/22/us/6-year-old-arrested-orlando-florida.html) A black teen who was a member of a swim team was falsely arrested by police as his team returned from a meet. The description of his encounter was painful to read, and more painful for him to experience. (https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/black-college-swimmer-sues-illinois-police-over-false-arrest/2219215/)

It’s not just black people who are seeing and experiencing injustice; it’s people of all walks of life. This president’s administration is adversely affecting the rights and the lives of women, immigrants, Hispanics, Muslims, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ community. His policies are traumatizing the poor, the elderly, and anyone who is not, as Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, “guilty and white.” (Stevenson has noted that in this country, one is more likely to get justice if he/she is guilty and white than if one is innocent and poor.”)

Stress causes horrible health problems, and from what I hear, more and more people are experiencing the kind of stress that comes from being traumatized. None of this bodes well for this country. Many people are pretending that things are not as bad as they are, but those feeling the stress are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to ignore this new reality.

A candid observation…

On Pseudo-Christianity

I have long said that if a person cannot, will not, or does not follow the words of Jesus, then that person cannot call oneself a Christian. As Christians, we are called to imitate the way Jesus lived and to follow his words. Short of doing that, a “religious” person who attends a Christian church cannot claim to be a Christian. At best, he or she is a church-goer.

The president this week “disagreed” with Jesus’ lesson to us to “love our enemies,” and he doubted the faith of those who say they pray for their enemies. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-politicization-of-the-national-prayer-breakfast-is-unholy-and-immoral/2020/02/06/529518e4-4931-11ea-bdbf-1dfb23249293_story.html) Jesus said for us to do that, most starkly in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, the president rejected the words and teaching of Jesus as his “enemies” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senator Mitt Romney listened,

It has been interesting to listen to people marvel at African Americans voice forgiveness for the persons who have killed their loved ones. The most recent example of a black person forgiving someone was Brandt Jean, who publicly forgave the white police officer who shot and killed his brother as he sat in his own apartment. (https://www.npr.org/2019/10/03/766866875/brandt-jeans-act-of-grace-toward-his-brother-s-killer-sparks-a-debate-over-forgi) His act did not endear him to many; in fact, many Christians – black especially but others as well – have scoffed at Jesus’ directives to forgive, to “turn the other cheek,” and to treat enemies with respect.

But if the truth be told, had not the words of Jesus been pounded into the psyches of black people, we as a people would have been long gone. We did not have any support for our lives and our rights – not from white people, not from the system, including Congress and the US Supreme Court, and we did not have the same access to weapons as did white people. Nonviolence saved protesters on the street; struggling to “do” the words of Jesus saved the souls and spirits of protesters as they continued to fight their enemies on a daily basis.

In a book I wrote some years ago, Forgive WHO? The Struggle to Obey God’s Awful Command, I examined this directive given to us by Jesus. It is as distasteful as it is difficult. It makes one feel weak because the natural human inclination is to fight stones with stones, and yet when the playing field is so uneven, it is a given that the powerful have more stones they can access, and therefore to wipe out their opposition.

The power of Jesus’ words is their ability to empower and strengthen people, who show a weird love – the love of God – and stand in front of their oppressors in spite of their pain and anger. It is doubtful that anyone “forgives” his or her enemies right away; that seems humanly impossible, but the words of Jesus become seeds in bruised souls and begin to sprout even as the victim of evil works to breathe through their pain. The act of forgiving first helps the one who has suffered an attack or affront from any number of sources. It is the highest, most supreme show of strength one can exhibit.

Those who do not, cannot, or will not forgive display what hatred and anger and resentment does to one’s spirit. The president is an example. He only wants revenge; the desire is eating at him, so intense that even in a “prayer breakfast,” where supposedly devout Christians have gathered to honor God, he cannot hold his pain within him, and he openly disavowed the words of Jesus the Christ.

And the Christians-in-name-only applauded him and laughed, which says at least to me that something is awry in their souls as well.

There is much confusion about forgiveness. Forgiving doesn’t mean you become best friends with the one who hurt you (no need to set up a time for “tea and crumpets), but it does mean that you lose the visceral reaction you experience when you even think of what the person has done to you. It frees you even as your abuser drowns in bitterness and anger.

What we have seen this week in this president and in the religious nationalists is a love of power, not of Jesus. We have heard – and will continue to hear and see – his words of anger and contempt for those who he deems as being his enemies, and he will spew his venom all over this country and everything he touches.

He and others might claim to be “Christian,” but they cannot be. They adhere to something that can only be called “pseudo Christianity,” something which has no foundation and teaches nothing about how to be one’s best self in the face of abject evil and attacks.

Those who fight with fists claim that they are strong. Dictators, who cannot stand to be criticized or challenged, and who kill and/or destroy anyone who does either, also claim to be strong,  But their quest for absolute power, and their willingness to put God and the instructions for life given by Jesus the Christ on the periphery of their lives, makes them the weakest people of all.

A  candid observation.

Requiem for America’s Mythical Democracy

            The debacle of the Trump impeachment process ended, for all intents and purposes, with the GOP-led Senate refusing to allow witnesses and documents which were said to support the charges of the president’s abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

In spite of some very few die-hard optimists who hoped for a miracle of justice, the GOP senators followed the lead of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In spite of some Republican senators admitting that the president had, in fact, done something wrong, his offenses did not rise to the level of deserving impeachment.

When the president is acquitted of wrongdoing, he will be free to continue his disembowelment of the American democracy as we have known it, but he is not the primary source of this state of being in this country. If the truth be told, even the Founders did not wholly believe in the concept of democracy, where everyone, rich and poor, black and white, male and female, would have an equal voice and equal rights. The concept of “one person, one vote” was understood from this country’s birth to mean “one white wealthy man, one vote.”

The Founding Fathers had problems with what the phrase “we the people” meant. While it was an idealistic goal to have all of the people of the nation participate in its governance, the truth of the matter is that many of the founders thought that to be not only impossible but impractical. The problem was that the country was set up to be run by a small group of wealthy white men. The masses of people, who steadily increased the ranks of the poor, were a threat to what the founders wanted this country would be. Alexander Hamilton said “the people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give, therefore, to the first class a distinct permanent share in the government.” (Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States)

It was the wealthy, therefore, wealthy, white, Protestant males who set this country up with the firm belief that this country should function as an oligarchy.

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Democracy, they thought, was a problem, because a true democracy required something of the masses that they often did not want or could not handle. In the end, the masses were not able to govern themselves, and hence, would lean toward an authoritarian government. Hamilton’s assertion that the masses were turbulent and changing supported the contention made years later by Shawn Rosenberg who said: “human brains are not made for self-rule.” (https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/09/08/shawn-rosenberg-democracy-228045) The chasm between the poor and the wealthy makes the capacity for more turbulence all the greater, leading to the poor fighting against each other and blaming each other for a piece of economic power that was never intended to be passed on to them.

            We in America have basked in a sort of pseudo-democracy for years, but the powers that be, the very wealthy, have always been in the middle of government, leading the way and calling the shots. Presidents, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, and Lyndon Johnson have all exercised excessive power – an abuse of power according to the US Constitution, yet people have acquiesced and given in because they (we) have trusted wealth and the dream of becoming wealthy more than they (we) have trusted our collective power. Democracies die, say experts, not from guns and missiles, but through the acquiescence of people, people who vote them into office and keep them there.

            The United States Senate’s refusal to call witnesses in the impeachment of the current president is not surprising, given that they represent the power class and have grown wary of so many people of color coming into the country and, they believe, threatening their power and therefore, their wealth. Making America “great” again is about fixing what many believe to be the skewing of the American government model – where wealthy, white men govern the masses and it seems that many in the ranks of the masses want to be controlled and led rather than taking on the responsibility of living and working in a true democracy.

With the president’s almost sure acquittal next week, one thing is certain: the façade of this government being a well-oiled, functioning democracy will finish the crumbling that began years ago, only to be accelerated by the Trump presidency. America the mythical democracy is in decline. What will rise up in its place is yet to be seen, but it will surely not be a place where “one person, one vote” is the norm, and where “all” people are considered to be equal.

But then, that wasn’t the plan as the country was formed. As the guardrails of the myth of democracy come crumbling down, it will be interesting to see what kind of government America really is.

A candid observation.

The Cost of Denying What You See

             The political climate in this country has many people angry, confused, and anxious. Even as the impeachment proceedings are going on in the Senate (I cannot call it a “trial” because it is so fraught with issues) there is no comfort that there will be a civilized end to the turmoil that has been the signature of this country for the past three years. Tribalism has become a live, virulent creature that seemingly will not be tamed or quieted.

I have been silent for weeks because I have not known what to say. What I see is the systematic unraveling of our country’s government as we have known it. I see values like honesty, regard for the law and for the Constitution, and political civility giving way to bold lies and sense of arrogance that dares anyone to try to stop what is happening. I see attacks on the press, manipulation of the concept of religious freedom to support one group of religious people at the expense of all others, and a disregard for this country’s allies.

I see the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, showing and using his considerable political acumen, in all of its ruthlessness.  I see one group of politicians trying to show the country and the world what is happening to America’s democracy, and another group of politicians saying that what we are seeing and hearing is not, in fact, the truth or real.

It is daunting and exhausting to watch.

But what is bothering me most is that people are denying what appears to be the truth; they refuse to listen to or look at voices and/or documents that support accusations that are being made. And I see simultaneously others who do see what is going on and who are gnawing on their fingernails as the process of dismantling this democracy is happening right before our eyes.

Denial of a problem does not make it go away. We, as human beings, are good at denying. Wives and husbands who get all of the warning signals that their spouse is cheating deny what they see. Parents who sense that their child is in trouble, perhaps doing drugs or drinking too much alcohol, or hanging out with the wrong people, deny what they see, sense, and feel. Neighborhoods deny that there the trouble that plagues other places could ever come to their streets until a horrific tragedy happens. People deny that there is police brutality until one of their loved ones becomes a victim. Parents deny that their son or daughter is gay until that child comes out; they have “known” all along, but preferred to live in denial.

Denial doesn’t work. Truth always comes up and out, and usually at the most inopportune times.

We in this country have lived in denial for a long time, pretending like our foundation is not racist and pretending that we believe in democracy. In fact, a broad swath of Americans has never believed that people of color are “equal” or deserving of full American citizenship. In the 19th century, white people in the North denied that they were racist until they were faced with scores of black people migrating North, looking for work and dignity. Being against the institution of slavery was one thing; granting black people full citizenship and saying that they were equal with whites was quite another. We still live in denial about our innate racism, but it is part of the foundation of this country. Some analysts say that what we are seeing is the move to “make America white again.” The push-back against allowing people of color to img_0231enter this country or stay in this country is part of the fear of white people no longer being the majority population in this country by the year 2044. (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/22/us/white-americans-minority-population.html) White men are intent on staying in power by any means necessary, but many of us are in denial that their practices and policies are rooted in the belief in the need to preserve white supremacy.

It is exhausting to watch, and troubling as well, because it seems that the progression of forcing regression to an earlier America where there was less tolerance of all people, in spite of our claim of American exceptionalism is on a fast train speeding down a hill. Nobody wants to admit it or talk about it. Nobody wants to say out loud that the voter suppression tactics that are being put into place are racist in their intent, designed to keep black and brown people out of the polling booths. And yet, what we are seeing is the result of having denied since our inception that white supremacy is America’s cancer. And it is eating us alive in the present day, even as we pretend we do not see what is going on.

Audre Lorde, an African American essayist, who described herself as a “black lesbian, warrior, mother, and poet” wrote the words, “My silences did not protect me. Your silence will not protect you.” The silence that so many people are living in and trying to maintain, the silence that keeps voices of truth from being heard, is not going to save America. Silence is denial, and denial is only a temporary stop-gap to the problems around us. Sooner or later, the truth will push through like an angry geyser, spraying the area around it with drops of truth.

The geyser of denial is bubbling beneath us, even as this president and administration continue their work to stay in power. I’m not quite sure what this country will look like once it bursts through our carefully cultivated ground of denial, but I am fairly certain that the “carnage” will be significant.

A candid observation.