Today, Americans are celebrating the 47th anniversary of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. During a time when many African Americans were disenfranchised, notably in the southern United States, the Voting Rights Act was seen as an essential ingredient to the Civil Rights struggle for freedom and equality.
Segregationists and blatant racists systematically excluded Blacks from the democratic process by requiring “citizens” whom wished to excercise their “right” to vote, as guaranteed under the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, to pass literacy tests and pay poll taxes–fees. Due to other existing systematic curtailing of rights of African Americans, racist whites in power ensured the denial of voting rights to a great deal of the Black population.
Literacy tests were supposed to measure someone’s ability to read and write. Because of lack of adequate quality of education–and biased questioning–it was nearly impossible for many of the test takers to pass. Whites were rarely required to take such as test.
Section four of the Voting Rights Act made this test illegal under federal law:
Sec 4 (a): To assure that the right of citizens of the United States to vote is not denied or abridged on account of race or color, no citizen shall be denied the right to vote in any Federal, State, or local election because of his failure to comply with any test or device in any State…
(c): The phrase “test or device” shall mean any requirement that a person as a prerequisite for voting or registration for voting (1) demonstrate the ability to read, write, understand, or interpret any matter, (2) demonstrate any educational achievement or his knowledge of any particular subject, (3) possess good moral character, or (4) prove his qualifications by the voucher of registered voters or members of any other class.
Poll taxes were used because most Blacks were poor, through existing laws and practices of cutting Blacks off from economic resources–money, credit, jobs, etc. Simply, a poor person who cannot afford the bare essentials–food, clothing, shelter–cannot afford to give up the little money they do have to vote.
Section 10 addressed this issue of disenfranchment of poor people:
Sec 10 (a): The Congress finds that the requirement of the payment of a poll tax as a precondition to voting (i) precludes persons of limited means from voting or imposes unreasonable financial hardship upon such persons as a precondition to their exercise of the franchise
In recent times, voting rights have come under attack in The United States by the Republican Party. All across the country, Republican lawmakers are introducing–and passing–state laws to abridge the right to vote of many by imposing ID restrictions and other qualifications, such as residential requirements. There are reasons why an identification card–or certain ones–may be hard to come by for lots of Americans. As with the poll tax from decades ago, plenty of people are not afforded the economic opportunities to pay the fees associated with obtained the specific types of identification Republicans are pushing.
Barriers being erected by Republicans would have its greatest impact on people of color and those not making decent, living wages. Obstacles are created because those affected traditionally–since the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and even as far back as The New Deal–have voted for (“left-leaning”) Democratic candidates, and Democrat-backed legislation on the ballots. Stopping poor people, and people of color could ensure Republican victories and rule/power throughout the United States and in Washington D.C.
As a result of Republican attempts to diminish the base of the Democratic Party, Democrats have started their own campaigns to combat such voter suppression through voter ID laws. Democrats know all too well that voter turnout is their best friend when it comings to winning elections and obtaining and maintaining control/power of legislatures. When voter turn out among their base is high, it is typically smooth sailing to victory for the Democratic Party. Thus, they fight for voter rights.
But, we cannot be fooled by the Democratic endeavors to trumpet the cause of the poor and underpriviledged. While it is true that for democracy to thrive more people need to be involved in the voting process, we must recognize the agenda of those who are parading around as protectors of democracy.
Both major political parties in the U.S. are after one thing–control. Actually, there isn’t really a divide between the two. What exists is a large group of people, ego-centrically fighting for their own positions at the top of America’s elite. Lawmakers, first, promote their own party. Through advancement of the party, the individual can climb the ranks and become a power within that party. Think of all the top-tier politicians who come to mind from both political parties. These are the people who were willing and able to navigate the political landscape and gain notoriety of their own. How many of them are millionaires and multi-millionaires? Their issues should not be framed as Republicans versus Democrats; it should be thought of in terms of the ruling (political) elite versus the rest of us, or the haves versus the have-nots. Buying into the idea that supporting either party would positively affect the lives of underserved and average Americans is senseless. Fighting for, or on behalf of, either party equals fighting for the individuals at the top of those parties, the political class, and the millionaires and billionaires both parties pander and acquiesce.
The idea is not to help the average American citizen; it is to have a “successful career.” You must question how it is possible that the U.S. Congress has grown richer over the past few decades, while the rest of us have seen our wealth and income decline or stagnate. You must look the exponential growth of wealth among the richest Americans along side the menial growth, no growth, and negative growth among the rest of us.
Now, if you are reading this and attributing the wealth gap to either of the two major political parties, then you have fallen for their tactics, not realizing they are all fighting for the same thing–self preservation and individual advancement. If you are attributing the conditions to people in poverty and government relief that barely compensates for problems caused by the two parties, then you, too, have fallen victim to partisan illusion. (Note: To recognize that government is the problems is admission that both parties are at fault, because both parties make up the government.)
If democracy is indeed the solution to the problems facing America, then voting rights do need to be protected for all citizens. But, voting to advance the agendas of self-serving individuals does nothing to better the conditions of people on the lowest totem polls of the U.S. It is truly saddening that Repulicans overtly target the rights of United States citizens to place on the chopping block, but it may be even worse for Democrats to hide shield their underhanded agendas by claiming to be fighting on behalf of minorities and poor people by protecting their right to vote.
Rarely do we hear leaders of the Democratic party speak to the interests of poor people. Over the past few years, we have heard the words “middle class” barked around to rally the public as a populous movement to trick us into jumping onboard to fight for the wealth and power of elitists. Even the term “middle class” exposes a separation of the public at large. For their to be a middle class, there must be a class of people above and below that class. It excludes the poorest among us. And that is, yet, another way to get the American public to ignore the problems and conditions of the poor. Championing the battle to “protect the middle class” is another way the leaders each party deceive the public into supporting the political class and the super wealthy. They simply want people who identify as a member of the middle class to enable them to extract more and more power away from the people for the purposes of self gain.
With all of the utterances about the middle class, mentions of the poor are practically non-existent. We rarely hear the politicians who are, today, questioning the costs of ID’s in reference to voting laws question the costs in reference to people being ticketed, fined, and jailed for failure to pay due to inadequate funds needed to produce identification when law enforcement officials demand the poor to produce such identification cards. They also seem to care about rights of poor people when it benefits the Democratic party, or a Democratic candidate. When they want poor people to vote for them or their party’s propositions, they mention poverty and laws that adversely affect the poor. When the politicians’ own self-promotion and careers are at at stake, Americans who are suffering and struggling day to day are ignored, maligned, and muffled.
Career politicians from the Republican Party and the Democratic Party do not care about the middle class or poor people submerged in poverty. They care about increasing their own wealth and standing among top the political rulers of the nation.