Voting rights: For Black Americans, it’s about survival
On May 26, 1965, the late Sen. Jennings Randolph (D-W.Va.) did something remarkable: He stood against the Southern Caucus and, facing the prospect of an angry majority-white constituency, cast one of the most important votes in his Senate career by voting for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Randolph went on to support the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Equal Rights Amendment as a co-sponsor in 1972, and the 24th and 26th Amendments to the Constitution. As his New York Times obituary pointed out, he wrote the constitutional amendment that gave 18-year-olds the right to vote.
Such was the caliber of West Virginia’s leadership in the Senate. Unfortunately, while some of us haven’t forgotten how Randolph’s leadership in civil rights helped to shape our nation, it appears that others have.
You see, from my youngest days growing up in Swansea, S.C., I heard about the importance of our vote — the Black vote. I heard about all the men and women who met and marched, fought, bled, cried and died for that right. As I grew older, I learned that our vote is the tool that keeps us sitting at the table, instead of being on the menu. I learned that people didn’t die for my right to vote; they were killed so that, one day, I could have a chance to that right.
Now, at 36 years old, I’m thinking back to those words from my sharecropping grandparents when I say that voting rights is the single most consequential issue of our day.
So, when I see at least 14 states enacting 22 laws to suffocate our voices at the polls and ensure that Black voters don’t turn out again like we did in 2020, I take it a little personally.
Now understand, when New York’s hip hop philosopher Jay-Z said that “nobody wins when the family feuds,” I was listening. That’s why I’m not interested in feuding with anyone. In fact, I respect diversity of thought, strategy, methodology and opinion. But I would like to remind everyone of a few things.
I’d like to remind everyone that this is nothing new — this nation’s history with voter suppression and suffocation is long and sordid. I’d like to remind everyone of the threats and violence that went along with the poll taxes, literacy tests that prompted leaders such as Jennings Randolph to act in the first place. I’d like to remind everyone of men like George Elmore, a South Carolina civil rights pioneer, who lost literally everything because they had the audacity to exercise their constitutionally protected right to vote.
I’d like to remind everyone how the modern day has replaced poll taxes with voter ID requirements, and how “routine purges” of voter rolls have denied thousands of men and women their right to vote, including Black Americans.
I’d like to point out that 389 bills restricting voting rights and resources have been introduced in 48 states this year alone, with targets that include mail-in ballots, early voting and even voter registration efforts — the exact efforts that produced last year’s historic turnout.
While some claim to oppose H.R. 1, the For the People Act, because they may not agree with everything in it or it isn’t “bipartisan” enough, they still support the John Lewis Voting Rights Act even though it is also opposed by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the GOP caucus.
We cannot count on a group of Republican senators to pass voting rights legislation that likely would, by enfranchising countless Americans, further shrink their minority in the Senate. That was a fantasy. After all, there’s nothing bipartisan about the legislation around our nation stripping and suffocating our rights to vote.
I’d also like to point out that it was only eight years ago when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, so the “threat” remains real. They took the best part of the law in 2013 and now they’ll come for the rest.
But there is one thing that I shouldn’t have to remind anyone about: I shouldn’t have to explain that the Black vote holds power, that it has delivered the White House and majority control of Congress more than once. And I shouldn’t have to remind anyone to respect that power because there’s no education in the second kick of the mule — and you can’t govern if you don’t win.
Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, a CBS News political contributor, and a senior visiting fellow at Third Way. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea.
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