Monday, May 19, 2008

Crimes of History

The Texas Observer does very good work, and this is a very good article on a very overlooked and underappreciated topic. Because one thing we have learned from the past 7 years of Republican control, both in Texas and in the nation, is that crime is what we say it is. As Lisa Turner says in the article:

“You have agents of the attorney general walking through a neighborhood, walking past three crack houses, to go talk to a voter. Think about that. What does that say their priorities are? It’s about holding on to the levers of power.”
The basis of prosecutorial discretion is that the prosecutor will decided to use the power of the government against those who threaten the peace and security of the community. When that discretion is abused, the legitimacy of the system is called into question. Of course, that system has always been abused; just ask Dr. Martin Luther King. And it has always been used to maintain the status quo of those in power.

That doesn't, however, mean it isn't abuse to use it that way. Texas, like Indiana, had a record turnout for the state's Democratic primary. Shaving a few percentage points may yet make a difference to who remains in power in Texas.

But it's still illegal. And keep reminding yourself this is 2008, not 1964, and remember Tim Russert sought assurances from Barack Obama that, in America, we no longer believe in white superiority and black inferiority. Yeah, right:

According to the Campaign Legal Center’s lawsuit, in which Ray, Johnson, Meeks, McDonald, Hinojosa, and the Texas Democratic Party are plaintiffs, a PowerPoint presentation used by Abbott’s office to train Texas officials was rife with racial stereotypes associating voter fraud with people of color—communities that in recent history have supported Democrats.

“As an introduction to a section of the PowerPoint involving ‘Poll Place Violations,’ a slide depicts a photograph of African-American voters apparently standing in line to vote,” the lawsuit’s complaint said. “Notably, the 71-slide presentation contains no similar photographs of white or Anglo voters casting ballots.

“Another slide in the same PowerPoint presentation, in a section involving tactics for investigating purported voter fraud, is entitled ‘Examine Documents for Fraud.’ That slide states that investigators should look for ‘Unique Stamps’ and shows a prominent picture of a postage stamp known as the ‘sickle cell stamp,’ which depicts an African-American woman and infant,” the complaint said. “The PowerPoint presentation thus communicates the message that minority voters should be the focus of election fraud investigations and prosecutions, particularly under the new 2003 criminal prohibitions.”
And the irony is: the Voting Rights Act was supposed to take care of this kind of thing:

“You have to understand that this would be 20 to 30 percent of the voting ballots from the Democratic Party, because senior citizens cherish the right to vote,” she said. “They remember the poll tax, having to pay it. And they want to vote.”
Maybe we should let Dr. King put this in perspective:

Our whole campaign in Alabama has been centered around the right to vote. In focusing the attention of the nation and the world today on the flagrant denial of the right to vote, we are exposing the very origin, the root cause, of racial segregation in the Southland. Racial segregation as a way of life did not come about as a natural result of hatred between the races immediately after the Civil War. There were no laws segregating the races then. And as the noted historian, C. Vann Woodward, in his book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, clearly points out, the segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land. You see, it was a simple thing to keep the poor white masses working for near-starvation wages in the years that followed the Civil War. Why, if the poor white plantation or mill worker became dissatisfied with his low wages, the plantation or mill owner would merely threaten to fire him and hire former Negro slaves and pay him even less. Thus, the southern wage level was kept almost unbearably low.

Toward the end of the Reconstruction era, something very significant happened. (Listen to him) That is what was known as the Populist Movement. (Speak, sir) The leaders of this movement began awakening the poor white masses (Yes, sir) and the former Negro slaves to the fact that they were being fleeced by the emerging Bourbon interests. Not only that, but they began uniting the Negro and white masses (Yeah) into a voting bloc that threatened to drive the Bourbon interests from the command posts of political power in the South.

To meet this threat, the southern aristocracy began immediately to engineer this development of a segregated society. (Right) I want you to follow me through here because this is very important to see the roots of racism and the denial of the right to vote. Through their control of mass media, they revised the doctrine of white supremacy. They saturated the thinking of the poor white masses with it, (Yes) thus clouding their minds to the real issue involved in the Populist Movement. They then directed the placement on the books of the South of laws that made it a crime for Negroes and whites to come together as equals at any level. (Yes, sir) And that did it. That crippled and eventually destroyed the Populist Movement of the nineteenth century.

If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. (Yes, sir) He gave him Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, (Yes, sir) he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. (Right sir) And he ate Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. (Yes, sir) And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, (Speak) their last outpost of psychological oblivion. (Yes, sir)

Thus, the threat of the free exercise of the ballot by the Negro and the white masses alike (Uh huh) resulted in the establishment of a segregated society. They segregated southern money from the poor whites; they segregated southern mores from the rich whites; (Yes, sir) they segregated southern churches from Christianity (Yes, sir); they segregated southern minds from honest thinking; (Yes, sir) and they segregated the Negro from everything. (Yes, sir) That’s what happened when the Negro and white masses of the South threatened to unite and build a great society: a society of justice where none would pray upon the weakness of others; a society of plenty where greed and poverty would be done away; a society of brotherhood where every man would respect the dignity and worth of human personality. (Yes, sir)
The more things change....

...which is not to say we are about to let them change back! But nothing ended in 1964, or in 1965, or in 1968, or in 2008 when 75,000 people turned out to rally for Barack Obama. We have to threaten to unite, again. We have to stay united, and we have to recognize that union will always be threatening. But, as Dr. King said in that speech, God's truth is marching on.

ADDENDUM: I should add that it is common knowledge in Texas that we are only a few years away from becoming a "minority majority" state, so these efforts at voter suppression are more than a little desperate, and ultimately doomed to failure based on sheer demographics alone. Indeed, that is much of the reason for the anti-immigrant hysteria, such as it is, and these problems are perfectly predictable, from a sociological point of view.

That doesn't make them any more palatable, of course, nor any less destructive. The interesting thing here is Texas politics. Texas became a Republican dominated state almost 30 years ago, and yet even the Republican legislature recognized what was coming, and passed a good law requiring the two major state universities (UT-Austin and Texas A&M) to admit the top 10% of all Texas high school graduates, if only to give poor students from poor school districts a chance. Efforts at roll back of that law are underway, and it's a less than perfect law (some of those 10% are truly not prepared for college, but is that their fault, or the fault of the state school system?); but rather than continue on that line, the state GOP has apparently chosen to fight a rearguard action.

Meanwhile, God's truth is marching on.

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