On Thursday, Sept. 7, during an Occupy Chicago protest in front of President Obama’s Chicago campaign headquarters, a few people decided to burn their voter registration cards as part of the protest. Many who have been involved in Occupy Chicago opposed this action. It was opposed by a majority at the first General Assembly where it was proposed. After much debate those who proposed it eventually agreed to remove any mention of it from the event description, but a few individuals still decided to do it. A counter-protest was called by Occupy the Southside.
Here’s the text of a flyer distributed as part of the counter-protest:
We are still fighting for the right to vote!
One of the most important assaults going on in this country is the drive to keep certain people from voting. The targets are African Americans, Latinos, our seniors, and the young. There is a huge effort to push us back to the days of Jim Crow, when Blacks were effectively locked out of voting in the South.
The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that new laws already in place have created barriers to voting for more than five million people, mostly African American and Latino.
Who are the people whose right to be vote is being taken away? Here are some of their stories.
In Tampa, Florida, Sara Kilker told of her friend, an elderly African American who doesn’t have an official photo: “He let his driver’s license expire in 2002 because it wasn’t safe for him to drive. He tried to get his birth certificate from Georgia but was told he needed an ID to get it, but he can’t get an ID without his birth certificate.”
In Chattanooga, Tennessee, 96-year-old Dorothy Cooper, a retired domestic worker, voted even under Jim Crow, but was turned away when she went for one of the state’s new free photo IDs–because her maiden name, Dorothy Alexander, is on her birth certificate, and she didn’t have her marriage license.
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite is suing the state. She cannot vote under the state’s new law because she does not have a driver’s license or a copy of her birth certificate. African Americans, especially the elderly, are less likely to have a birth certificate.
In Indiana, Notre Dame University student Angela Hiss was barred from voting because her Illinois driver’s license was not accepted as an ID.
In Columbia, South Carolina, 59-year-old Delores Freelon lives on disability and cannot afford to petition her home state of California to add her first name to her birth certificate. Without a valid birth certificate, she cannot get a photo ID to vote.
In Sumter, South Carolina, Willie Blair, a 61-year-old sharecropper, cannot read. His name does not match the name on his birth certificate, so he cannot use the certificate to get a photo ID to vote.
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 19-year-old Anthony Sharp does not have any of the accepted forms of photo ID under the new law and cannot afford the $20 certified copy of his birth certificate in order to vote.
Also in Milwaukee, Carl Ellis, a U.S. Army veteran living in a homeless shelter, has no other photo ID than his veteran ID card, which is not accepted under the law.
In Menard, Illinois, Javan Deloney cannot vote due to a felony conviction, even though the conviction is based on a confession Chicago police tortured out of him.
In Nashville, Tennessee, 93-year-old Thelma Mitchell has cleaned the governor’s office for his entire term, was delivered by a midwife and has never had a birth certificate. Under the new law, her state photo ID is not enough to vote. When she could not produce a birth certificate, a state employee questioned whether she was in the U.S. illegally.
Ten states have passed laws requiring state photo ID like drivers’ licenses and two dozen others proposed these laws. The law was cynically designed, as a leader of the Pennsylvania legislature put it, to “allow Governor Romney to win the state.” A legislator in Wisconsin made the same prediction about his state. 11% of citizens, over 21 million people, do not have a government-issued photo ID. It includes 25% of African Americans (over 6 million voters) and 16% of Latinos (almost 3 million voters). At least 12 states introduced legislation that would also require proof of citizenship.
The former chair of the Republican Party in Florida testified in a deposition that top party officials “talked about not letting blacks vote.” Florida has purged thousands of registered voters, including 12,000 who were erroneously flagged, over 70% of whom were African American or Latino. Other states like Mississippi have been purging voters too.
At the same time, Florida put outrageous new restrictions on voter registration that have cut new registrations by 60% as against 2008–that is, they cut new Democratic registrations by 96%, while Republican registrations rose.
Governors in swing states like Ohio and Florida have cut back on early, weekend, evening, and absentee voting used by many people to avoid missing work or waiting in long lines in concentrated urban areas. Florida and Iowa made it harder for citizens with past felony convictions to restore their voting rights.
In addition, True the Vote, a Tea Party group, is recruiting a projected one million “poll watchers” to harass voters across the country, as they did in Texas in 2010. Their targets are what they call “illegal aliens” and the “food stamp army.”
Aware of people of color’s high levels of voting in 2008 and the growing Latino population, the Republicans aim to be the party through which future white minority rule can be guaranteed, and labor unions and the safety net can be dismantled.
Several states and organizations are suing to overturn core protections of the Voting Rights Act.
If voting doesn’t matter, then why are so many wealthy reactionary groups trying so hard to take away so many people’s ability to vote?
We stand here today on the basis of a long history in which great sacrifices were made to gain the right to vote to help curb the racist forces in society and the government.
This is not just about the two main corporate parties competing for offices. It is about driving the politics of this country and movement in a counter-revolutionary direction. It is about protecting the rule of the 1%, protecting racism and sexism, strengthening the prison system, keeping immigrant workers down, smashing labor unions, abortion rights, contraception, and Occupy and other freedom movements.
What limited democracy we have was not handed down from above to dupe the masses. It was won in struggle, from the revolution in the War of Independence, to the second revolution of the Civil War, to women’s 100 years of struggle for suffrage, to the Black revolution of the 1950s and 1960s.
The narrowing of democracy is always counter-revolutionary, from sanctifying slavery in the Constitution to betraying Reconstruction, to the last few decades’ explosion of imprisonment and disenfranchisement. Black masses have always been the vanguard of U.S. freedom struggles and have always had to fight for full inclusion in this society.
We have seen what happens when a people or a community is disenfranchised. We do not want to return to the tyranny of Jim Crow rule. We want to expand freedom. That is why people have been protesting against voter suppression, from the rally held yesterday (Sept. 5) by Occupy Memphis to a march of hundreds in Tampa during the Republican convention there. It is an integral part of the whole freedom movement.