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Analysis: Assault on minority voting rights

Associated Press | 12/6/2011, 4:15 p.m.

What could be more disruptive than preventing millions of potential supporters from casting their ballots in the next presidential election?

Battling Back: The Struggle Continues

In the past, Democrats have been as active as Republicans in keeping blacks and other minorities from the ballot box. During the years since Bush v. Gore, however, efforts at disfranchisement have acquired a distinct right-wing aura.  Obama’s presence in the White House seems to have intensified their exertions.

Their activities haven’t escaped notice. Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz heads the Democratic National Committee. She told the Associated Press, “we’re aggressively engaged in making sure that we help voters move these obstacles and barriers that are being put in their way that are essentially designed to rig an election when Republicans can’t win these elections on the merits.”

The right’s frenzied movement echoes the feverish resistance that Southern states mounted against activists during the Fifties and Sixties. And the tactics remain dishearteningly similar. Consider civil-rights hero John Lewis’s description of Selma, Ala., in 1955.

He told National Public Radio, “In Selma, you could only attempt to register to vote on the first and third Mondays of each month. You had to go down to the courthouse and get a copy of the so-called literacy test and attempt to pass the test. And people stood in line day in and day out failing to get a copy of the test or failing to pass the test.”

In Lewis’ view, the subsequent protests that he and others organized “created a sense of righteous indignation among the American people.”

“Defending Democracy” calls for a similar activist spirit. The report recommends “employing all available tools and advocacy techniques from litigation and political action, to grassroots organizing.”

Other suggestions include spreading the word about block-the-vote campaigns to friends and neighbors, expressing dissatisfaction to elected representatives, volunteering at the polls and joining a march for freedom in New York on Dec. 10.

Progressives believe that only a forceful, concerted effort can protect the freedoms guaranteed by the Voting Rights Act, a document already regarded as fragile by some observers on the left and right.

When signing that tide-changing legislation on Aug. 6, 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson observed, “The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.”

Few have been as dedicated to rebuilding those terrible walls as the forces currently arrayed against voting rights.  As “Defending Democracy” makes clear, to remain silent and do nothing would be the same as handing them the bricks and mortar.

Jabari Asim is Editor-in-Chief of The Crisis magazine, the NAACP’s flagship publication.