Don’t lament voting rights ruling; embrace the power

By Wayne Dawkins

PORTSMOUTH, Va. – The 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act among the worst decisions ever.

“It’s unconscionable,” said Louise Lucas, an African-American state senator, and pioneering civil rights warrior here.

Elsewhere, there is much handwringing about the court decision.

The complaining is hyperbole.

What if it’s time to take the training wheels off the 16 mostly Southern States that once used physically and psychologically brutal tactics to deny black folk the vote back in the Jim Crow days?

Can people – including civil rights elders with vivid memories – agree that the South is not the evil backwater of a half-century ago? Can we also concede that yes, there is political mischief; political people in power will try to deny others their voting rights?

The difference is black Americans, who were barely citizens in 1965, are first-class citizens in 2013.

When politicians tried to suppress black and poor voters during last year’s presidential election, citizens fought back with fury. People sounded alarms in social media and via the traditional press. They showed up at the polls. That’s power. The politically connected and super rich were shocked that they could not, would not steal an election.

Today, African-Americans for the most part are not the helpless souls of the 1960s, when registering to vote in Mississippi meant bullets between the eyes, or in Virginia a sadistic maze of tests guaranteed to nullify attempts to cast ballots. That America no longer exists.

Some of the most horrific schemes aimed at disenfranchising black voters last year took place in Northern states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. This week’s Supreme Court decision should be a reminder that citizens should be vigilant about protecting voting rights in all 50 states instead in one region.

As a reminder to officials in the Alabama county that filed the appeal and officials in other Southern states that felt they were picked on for too long, nearly half of New York state received extra supervision too for incorrigible voting rights schemes.

Part of the voting rights act was vulnerable to court challenge because of Congressional laziness. The same data was rubber-stamped for decades – as recently as 2006 when it was unanimously approved during the George W. Bush presidency – out of synch with dramatic American social and demographic change. Congress can update the section of the voting rights act that the majority of the high court rejected.

Instead of complaining about Supreme Court decision on voting rights, skeptics should teach new generations of voters to remember our history and struggle, and then they can take responsibility for the voting power they now hold.