May 11, 2014

Voting Rights Are Foundation of Democracy; Not "Partisan Advantage' Game

The "Genius of Wisconsin" by Helen Farnsworth Mears,
displayed in the third Wisconsin State Capitol rotunda
Disregarding history; avoiding facts; ignoring the law and the Constitution; and heedless of the deeds of Republican officials, three years ago Professor Mordecai Lee tried peddling the false equivalence analysis on the Republican war on voters after Scott Walker signed the unconstitutional voter ID into law.

Since the civil rights movement era, "every argument about enfranchisement or disenfranchisement has really been about partisan advantage," said Lee on the Rachel Maddow Show.

Lee's is a ludicrous position and is one that is taken up editorially in dailies across Wisconsin (ostensibly against Act 23), emphatically so in the Wisconsin State Journal (May 4).

In-person voter fraud doesn't exist—as opposed to what Republicans endlessly assert, or in Paul Ryan's oily racist-dog-whistle style voices surprise about high "urban" turn-out in elections—but let's not call this propaganda, is the State Journal's editorial position.

Stop wasting money defending the in-person voter ID law, the State Journal says, but recognize as well that "(w)ithout a doubt, partisan advantage in the looming fall election and beyond is the main motivator on both sides of the political divide."

No, partisan advantage is not the main motivator on both (whatever that means) sides of the political divide.

It comes as apparent news to the editors of the Wisconsin State Journal, but the civil rights movement is not about securing partisan advantage. The Voting Rights Act is not about partisan advantage.

The right to vote in the United States is a human and civil right through which all Americans work to secure their conception of a better world, that the heart of the civil rights movement means defending fellow Americans in their effort through any political party or association to live their lives and work to change society as they see fit.

The logical inheritor (the civil rights movement and the right to work in pursuit of individual objectives) of the classical liberal roots of America are under attack by the Republican Party, and too few acknowledge this total war on the very fabric of American democracy.

That the perpetrators of this war against the civil rights movement are the Republican and Tea Party does not imply that all must be guilty of seeking partisan or factional advantage.

This is a fundamental, if not intentional, misunderstanding of the civil rights movement.

Wisconsin, and Madison in particular, have an intimate connection with the civil rights movement, dating back to the Civil War, so one would expect a greater appreciation of voting rights from the editors of our state's second largest daily newspaper.

I would respectfully recommend that every Wisconsinite read Desegregation and Civil Rights (Wisconsin State Historical Society) and Historical Society's work on the 1964 Freedom Summer Project. Those who seek to discuss the voting ID issue in a civil rights context, in print or otherwise, should understand this history.

Or, if reading history is too much to ask today, here's a video clip that captures what the civil rights movement worked to accomplish. And it is not a "partisan advantage."

Andrew Goodman standing at the foot of a staircase, age 19, wearing a dark shirt. Andrew Goodman
was a civil rights activist and volunteer for the Freedom Summer project. He, along with
James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, was murdered in the summer of 1964.

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