Aug 19, 2013
On August 12, North Carolina, which up until then had established few restrictions on voting, passed a package of voting laws described as the most restrictive in the nation.
This came only six weeks after the Supreme Court tossed out the heart of the Voter Rights Act of 1965, a provision aimed at Southern states that historically had denied black people the right to vote and against some Northern counties and cities that also limited access to the polls – for example, Los Angeles County in California, and Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx in New York.
While most of the restrictions on voting were directed against black people, they also effectively disenfranchised poor white or immigrant workers and farmers.
Even with the Voting Rights Act in effect, states were restricting voting. Before the Supreme Court decision, at least 25 states had some kind of restrictions.
But the Supreme Court decision was an open encouragement to all those reactionaries who would place limitations on the right to vote.
Some of the existing restrictions cut down on the hours in which people can vote, or on early voting, both of which make it much harder for working people to register their opinion at the polls. We saw the result of such restrictions in 2012 in Virginia, in the District of Columbia and in Florida, for example. The Orlando Sentinel reported that more than 200,000 people who had lined up to vote in Florida waited so long, they finally gave up.
Some restrictions, such as the requirement for an official photo ID, simply eliminate all possibility for certain people to vote. Twenty-five per cent of the people in many jurisdictions do not have and do not have the means to get such an ID – older people, poor people, people isolated in rural areas, people in urban areas without cars.
Most, but not all, of these laws have been pushed through by Republicans for partisan reasons: to prevent poor working class people, often black, who usually vote Democratic, from voting. But Democrats have supported those laws also, including in states they totally control.
But whichever party pushed these laws through, the result is that they reinforce the rule of wealth over society.
Even if all such restrictions were removed, wealth would still dominate the political process in this country. At the very obvious level, candidates need money even to get a hearing. Usually, voters are choosing between two candidates who have amassed their funds from the wealthy who dictate to them.
But the rapid growth of restrictions on voting shows that at least a segment of the wealthy class wants to boot the working class out of the political process altogether.
Despite all the propaganda, there has never been a guarantee of “certain and inalienable rights” to everyone in this country. People got their rights when they took them.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 did not just appear out of the blue. It was the attempt of one section of the wealthy class to divert and keep the struggle of the black population within legal grounds.
Recall the time period. In 1963, in response to the firebombing of the movement’s headquarters, the people of Birmingham, Alabama went into the street – rioting, as some reactionaries called it. They were followed by the people of Harlem; Jersey City, Patterson and Elizabeth, New Jersey; Philadelphia; Chicago; and Rochester, New York in 1964.
The Voting Rights Act was signed on August 6, 1965, with a big fanfare, attempting to damp down the struggle. People were not to be bought off so cheaply. Just five days later, the Watts rebellion broke out on August 11.
It was those rebellions, and the ones that followed, that forced the racists to step back. It was in those rebellions that the black and other poor people took for themselves the rights that a racist society would not willingly grant them.
Frederick Douglas said, about the fight against slavery, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” It was a point well illustrated by the fight for simple democratic rights a century later.