Tag Archives: Supreme Court

Join the Political Debate

Join the Political Debate: a chapter from the book:

Rise Up! 42 Additional Ways to Improve Black America Now, written by Gary A. McAbee

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NOTE: this excerpt was written in 2012, when I encouraged all people to get involved in the political process. It was an attempt to get people to wake up, and learn about the ways politics affect our daily lives. Today, the idea that people should pay closer attention to politics is more important than ever. As a country, we need to read and educate ourselves every day to join the political debate…

 

Now that we have an African-American President, there really is no excuse for black people to doubt the validity of the political process. The system still has subtle inequalities and injustices here and there, but for the most part we can believe that it works. We can believe that our votes are counted and they have meaning. We can believe that our voices, so often ignored in the past, have been heard. Now there is no excuse why we should not be more involved in politics, and issues that shape our communities, and nation as a whole.

How many ways are there for African Americans to contribute to the political process? We can start by voting. Barack Obama’s candidacy energized a new generation of voters while reawakening so many disenchanted ones. Let’s face it: many blacks were turned off by politics until Barack Obama came along. As a result, our voter turnout results were among the lowest of any race people until 2008. This is a trend that can continue if we ride the political wave that we are currently on.

We cannot forget the sacrifices that our predecessors made so that we can vote today. By voting, we can validate their efforts and the hardships they endured for future generations of African Americans like us. Until recently, our heroes such as Fannie Lou Hamer and Frederick Douglass would have been disappointed in us because of our spotty voting history. However, this disappointment would undoubtedly be turned into pride now that we voted en masse and helped to elect our current leader. In the future, we must continue to honor the legacies of those who paved the way for us to vote today by filling the ballot box.

African Americans can join in the political process by remaining aware of the decisions made on the local level. The decisions made by our city councils have long-lasting impacts on the issues currently affecting our lives. For example, I spoke in this book about the amount of bars and liquor stores in my old neighborhood. It takes licensing and zoning laws to operate businesses, so how can we have so many operating in a given area? The answer is because it is legal and allowed to happen. What can we do to change this?

We can start by getting involved by letting our local elected officials know that this is not acceptable. One thing we can do is voice our displeasure so that more of these places are not allowed to open in our communities. Take this action a step further. If we are not satisfied with our local representatives, we can email, call, or visit them! After all, they work for us and we can vote them out. Our strength lies in the fact that they are aware of this. So, if enough African Americans in Jersey City, NJ choose to complain about the establishments in our neighborhoods, changes would surely follow.

Moving on, education must become a part of the debate when joining the political process. Our schools do not place enough emphasis on the workings of government; therefore, we are left out of the loop when it comes to political matters. We can easily overcome this by using a very powerful tool at our disposal: the computer. With the advent of the computer, there is no excuse for a lack of knowledge in today’s society! We can learn about politics, the legal system, and policy formulation all by accessing the internet. As a result, we can be better prepared to join the political debate.

Increasing our knowledge base would lead to more African Americans who can become involved in the political process as candidates. A great way to influence and direct change in our communities is to elect our own officials. Our elected officials are vital to our agenda of better education, better and safer schools, and cleaner communities just by their presence alone. Their voice in government is better than having no representation at all. Therefore, we need to be sure that we are raising our next generation of politicians who will shape the future of African Americans.

This influx of talented minds would help to close the gap of a lack of African Americans on the national political scene as well. We are not visible enough in national politics. An illustration of this point is from studies of the Sunday early morning and daily cable news political shows and roundtable discussions. These are the best opportunities for elected officials to join the national political debate in front of millions of interested viewers. The studies paint an interesting picture.

I am one who hates to use statistics, because statistics can be analyzed from many different viewpoints. However, the following statistics about the lack of African-American viewpoints cannot be denied. For example, during a 16-month study on the Sunday morning talk show circuit, only 1 out of every 10 political figures invited was African-American. In fact, 60% of these shows had no black guests at all during the study. As a final thought, 69% of all African-American appearances were made by only three people: Juan Williams (author and FOX News correspondent), and former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

This lack of representation points to the fact that our underrepresentation must be challenged and improved. Even if these political figures could push an agenda favorable to African Americans, how much impact could they really have on today’s political discussions? Therefore, we need more African Americans in politics to keep issues that affect us on the table.

There is one last point to be made about today’s political landscape. This is a reminder to our people, as well as our politicians, not to get caught up in the typical gridlock in our politics thanks in large part to political affiliations. It shouldn’t matter that Barack Obama is a Democrat. Nor should it matter that JC Watts is a Republican. It should not matter to us that Al Sharpton attracts negative publicity. Nor should it matter that Clarence Thomas possesses conservative views. They are all African-American political leaders that we can learn a lot from if we are open to joining the political debate. Their ideals can help us become more interested and educated about the political process.

Voting Rights: Yet Another One of the Remaining Great Disqualifiers

Voting: Yet Another One of the Remaining Great Disqualifiers

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There are still a few barriers that tend to disqualify certain groups of people from participating in our democracy. Restrictions to voting and voting rights are one of these remaining great disqualifiers that negatively affect far too many people. The interesting part of this issue is the fact that voting rights are established for all citizens as a birthright. The only restriction that should prevent American citizens from voting is age, and once that barrier is passed the right to vote should no longer be an issue. However, even though it is 2016,  the fundamental right to vote is still not guaranteed for all American citizens. It is one of the remaining great disqualifiers.

To effectively make the point that voting has always been a disqualifier, we must look back through the course of our history. When our nation was founded, voting was an exercise that only white male wealthy landowners could do. Over time, voting rights were gradually extended to other segments of the population thanks to adding amendment after amendment to the US Constitution. Take a look at the timeline that nearly ended voting as a remaining great disqualifier. Then think about the continuation of the discrimination that remained despite of the amendments created to prevent it…

  • Fifteenth Amendment (15th) 1870: non-white males, regardless of property ownership received right to vote
  • Nineteenth Amendment (19th) 1920: women received right to vote
  • Twenty-fourth Amendment (24th) 1964: ended poll tax as a disqualifier from voting
  • Twenty-sixth Amendment (26th) 1971: reduced voting age to 18

Despite the ratification of these amendments, major pockets of resistance to voting rights remained. These included denying the rights of freed male black former slaves from voting, even though the 15th Amendment allowed it. Females of all races could not until after the 19th Amendment allowed women to vote. Poll taxes, which were a pay-to-vote scheme, prevented many people from voting until the 24th Amendment made the practice illegal. Finally, the age barrier was reduced by the 26th Amendment, thanks in large part to opposition to the Vietnam War.

One must ask why these pockets of resistance to voting, otherwise known as remaining great disqualifiers, existed even after laws were put in place to abolish them. Something more sinister was taking place, and history has a way of documenting injustices for the record. At various parts of our history, the following groups of people were not allowed to vote: women, poor white men, slaves and free blacks, Native Americans, and in some cities, Jews and even Catholics. It would take two sweeping pieces of legislation to “end” voting inequalities: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Both of these laws included various parts which, in theory, should have ended all forms of voting discrimination.

After the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, we must ask ourselves why court cases and laws created by individual states still to this day challenge the voting rights of so many groups of people. The door that closed on voting inequalities in the 1960s was opened by the Supreme Court in 2013 when it struck down a part of the Voting Rights Act. The Court determined that many of the safeguards put in place to protect voting rights for African Americans in the South were outdated and unnecessary. You would think that would be the case in 2013. However, soon after this ruling several states in the South and others controlled by Republican legislatures enacted laws that make it more difficult for some people to vote in 2016!

In 2016, many people face barriers such as reduced early voting times, new ID laws, and stricter registration dates and rules. Voting is still one of the remaining great disqualifiers. The recent headlines from the past week prove this is true. The good news is courts around the country are knocking down laws that put unreasonable restrictions on voting. For example, on July 29, 2016 a federal court struck down a North Carolina Law that included strict identification guidelines for voting. Other states, such as Texas, Ohio, and Wisconsin have similar laws that are currently being litigated.

As we complete this brief examination of voting in America, we must ask again why so many restrictions have been placed on the voting rights of so many people. The truth is that some people simply do not want others in our society to vote. This crosses over issues of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, economic status, and political affiliation. Therefore, the only way to finally end challenges to voting is to adopt common-sense measures that can be applied equally and fairly for all American citizens. The following list is a good start:

  • Create a national voter ID, offered free of charge, that could also be used in state and local elections for identification.
  • Distribute free voter IDs at driver’s license centers as an option for those who cannot obtain a driver’s license for various reasons
  • Switch the national voting day to a Saturday so less people would have to make arrangements to get off work to vote, or keep Election day on Tuesday, and allow all workers to have two hours of paid time to vote.
  • Allow national early voting days to be uniform in all states.
  • Give voter registration cards to all high school graduates  so they can start the registration process immediately.
  • Develop a better system similar to airline screening that eliminates voting fraud.

These are only some ideas that may be developed in the future. For now, we have to rely on the court systems, as well as our elected officials, and everyday citizens to help ensure the voting rights of all Americans. Hopefully someday soon, this will be  this will no longer be an issue for any American citizen over the age of 18.Voting has been one of the remaining great disqualifiers for far too long.

This is a follow-up to my original posts:

Credit: One of the Remaining Great Disqualifiers

Education: Another One of the Remaining Great Disqualifiers.

Be on the lookout for my next post… Mass Incarceration: Maybe the Last of the Remaining Great Disqualifiers