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Something Big


There’s something big going on here and it’s not just about November 2. It’s about democracy in America.

 

I said last week, the Good Old Boy Party of the GOP is engaged in a last-ditch stunt to put Jim Crow America on life support. I take it back. The party of preemptive war is trying to preempt democracy not by hanging on to the old century’s ways, but doing the Civil Rights movement over, and having it turn out different.

 

The Los Angeles Times carried a fascinating report Friday. Bush administration lawyers are trying to rewrite Civil Rights era justice.

 

In three closely contested states, the administration’s lawyers have argued that only the Justice Department, not voters themselves, have a right to sue to enforce the voting rights set out in the Help America Vote Act or HAVA, which was passed in the aftermath of the disputed 2000 election.

 

The significance of that?

 

Well imagine the Civil Rights Movement without Dr. King, without the NAACP, without scores of lawsuits brought by individuals and groups who went to court to fight discriminating officials. Since the 1960s, individuals and groups – not government officials — have driven the enforcement of civil rights. Indeed government bureaucrats have usually been the problem.

 

The Voting Rights Act was supposed to ensure the enfranchisement of everybody but it didn’t originally include a private right to sue state officials who discriminated. The Justice Department only backed the idea of private suits, in a case that finally reached the Supreme Court in 1969. In their ruling, the justices said “the achievement of the acts’ laudable goals would be severely hampered if each citizen were required to depend solely on litigation institute at the discretion of the attorney general.” Good point.

 

Well now, John Ashcroft’s lot are trying for a reversal of that opinion. In legal briefs brought in Ohio, Michigan and Florida, the adminstration’s lawyers argue that regardless of anyting that happened in the 1960s, HAVA gives the Attorney General exclusive power to bring lawsuits to enforce its provisions. Like “the requirement that states provide uniform and nondiscriminatory voting systems” and give provisional ballots to those who say they’ve registered but whose names don’t appear on the electoral register.”

 

The Voting Rights Act is all very well in other words, but thanks to HAVA it may only be enforceable if John Ashcroft feels like it. The guy’s very inclined to enforce an individual corporation’s rights to cut down Redwoods and drill the arctic…But to protect your vote if you look like a Democrat? I don’t’ think so.

 

At the very same time –  and nothing that happens right now is a coincidence – the Internal Revenue Service is threatening the NAACP. According to the group’s chairman, Julian Bond, an IRS document dated Oct. 8 says that at the group’s annual convention in Philadelphia in July, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People violated its tax exempt status (part of its ability to raise funds) because it “distributed statements in opposition of George W. Bush for the presidency.” The NAACP’s incorporated under a section of the tax-code section that prohibits political campaigning.

 

Who held the first hearings in Florida that revealed that even election officials had been ilegially struck off the electoral rolls? Who first invited witnesses to testify that there were police barricades in minority precincts, and old low tech computers that couldn’t connect back with head office, even as there were modern high tech machines in the wealthy White districts. Who was it that ultimately took Secretary of State Katherine Harris to court? The NAACP. The NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization.

 

The NAACP and certain members of the Bush administration go way back. Where were Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney in 1969 for example? Working for Richard Nixon, in the Office of Economic Opportunity – trying to turn that Kennedy era operation around, to use to police civil rights and poor people’s groups, and work against the gains of the civil rights movement. They didn’t like the majority America then. They still don’t like it.

 

So they’re giving us a chance to do the civil rights movement over.

 

So be it. I think it just might be a chance to do it better. The right to vote has never been a right, remember, it’s always been a privilege, granted to some and denied to many. Typical of them, the Bush Cheney team are going way into overreach with their disenfranchisement, voter-challenge and intimidate effort. Could election 2004 be a benchmark when majority America finally gets it? Democracy for any of us depends on democracy for all of us. It’s that simple.

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