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Civil rights, labor groups protest voter suppression and anti-immigrant laws

By David Hoskins |
March 13, 2012
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Selma, AL - Thousands of protesters gathered here, March 4 to kick off a five-day march to Montgomery. The Selma-to-Montgomery march recreates the route that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led civil rights protesters along in 1965. It marks the 47-year anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when 600 civil rights marchers were attacked, tear gassed and brutally beaten by Alabama state troopers and local police forces.

Organizers called this year’s march to protest Alabama’s new anti-immigrant law and a wave of voter suppression laws being passed around the country. The Reverend Al Sharpton and the National Action Network spearheaded the march, which was supported by civil and immigrant rights groups, along with major labor unions.

Alabama’s anti-immigrant law requires police to question people they suspect of being undocumented, prohibits undocumented workers from receiving any state or local public benefits and prevents landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants. Alabama also joins Kansas and Tennessee in targeting immigrant communities by requiring proof of citizenship at the polls in order to vote.

According to a report by the New York University Brennan Center for Justice, 14 states have passed laws and issued executive actions that could suppress the vote of up to 5 million people in the 2012 elections.

The Republicans are trying to reduce voter participation in an attempt to influence the 2012 elections and win back the White House and Senate from Democrats. The states that already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes (or 63% of the electoral vote needed to win the presidency) in the 2012 election.

Oppressed nationalities targeted

On closer inspection another trend becomes apparent. These actions represent a coordinated assault on the rights of African-Americans, Chicanos and other oppressed nationalities to participate in U.S. elections.

South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin are among states that now require a state-issued photo ID to vote. It is estimated that 25% of African-American voters do not possess a valid form of government-issued photo ID, compared to 11% of all voters.

Ohio eliminated in-person early voting on Sundays and Florida has eliminated it on the last Sunday before Election Day. It is common for African-American churches to organize “Souls to the Polls” voting drives on Sundays and bus Black voters to election stations in large groups on those days. In Florida, Black and Latino voters made up 57% of those who voted early on the last Sunday before Election Day in 2008. Florida and Texas have also practically outlawed voter registration drives that often work to increase participation in oppressed communities.

Florida and Iowa have made it much more difficult for people with past felony convictions to get their voting rights restored. According to a Brennan Center for Justice report, disenfranchisement after criminal conviction remains the single most significant barrier to voting rights in the United States and targets African-American men in particular. 13% of African-American men have lost the right to vote nationwide, seven times the national average.

It is estimated that in addition to the impact on oppressed nationalities, the voter suppression laws will also have a disproportionate and negative impact on the ability of low-income workers, students and the disabled to vote.

2008 Election Results Prompt Right-wing Assault

These steps taken mostly by Republican legislatures and governors expose the inherent contradiction between capitalism and democracy.

The 2008 election of the country’s first African-American president did not alter the fundamental character of U.S. elections. One of the two main ruling class parties won. With Democrats in total control of the White House and Congress, they advanced an agenda that continued the ruling class policy of war abroad and huge bailouts for Wall Street at home. They implemented some relatively mild reforms that do not pose any real challenge to the profit system’s status quo in sectors of the economy like finance.

President Obama is certainly not a movement politician like the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Jackson came directly out of the Civil Rights Movement when he made his serious runs in the Democratic presidential primaries of 1984 and 1988.

However, the coalition that came together to elect Obama looked and felt a lot like a movement at times during the 2008 election. African-American, Chicano, Latino and other oppressed nationalities joined hands with union workers, students and the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community and projected their hopes and aspirations for equality and justice onto Obama in a way that helped propel Democrats to a landslide electoral victory.

The rich and powerful who are most served by capitalist elections asked each other what else a movement of workers, students and the oppressed could win in the electoral arena if they were capable of overcoming centuries of deep-seeded racism to elect an African-American president. Rather than simply wait and find out, they financed and organized a faux movement of Tea Partiers and used not-so-subtle racism, sexism and homophobia to ride that faux movement all the way to electoral victories in state legislatures and governorships around the country in 2010.

From that position they quickly unrolled a coordinated state-based strategy to destroy any semblance of a progressive electoral movement. The union-busting bills in Wisconsin and Ohio were the right wing’s opening salvo in this battle. The ongoing wave of voter suppression, which has already been implemented in 14 states, is the logical continuation of this war on the people.

The recall election of Governor Walker in Wisconsin and the success of the popular referendum in Ohio to overturn that state’s union busting bill illustrate the determination of the people to use whatever electoral means are at their disposal to fight back against this assault on their democratic rights.

The recent Selma-to-Montgomery march attempts to turn this focus to the struggle against national oppression and voter suppression as well. With the 2012 elections just months away and the hard-won right to vote for African Americans and other oppressed nationalities under attack, the timing for this march could not have been better.