“I was disappointed, because I think what the court did today is stamp the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in its very heart. It is a major set back. We may not have people being beaten today, maybe they are not being denied the right to participate or to register to vote, they are not being chased by police dogs or trampled by horses, but in the 11 states of the old confederacy and even in some of the states outside of the south, there has been a systematic, deliberate attempt to take us back to another period. These men that voted to strip the Voting Rights Act of its power, they never stood in unmovable lines, they never had to pass a so-called “Literacy Test”. It took us almost 100 years to get where we are today, so will it take another 100 years to fix it, to change it?” -John Lewis
As we celebrate the equal marriage victory, let us not forget that The Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the hallmark milestones in the modern Civil Right Movement, was voted invalid in some of its most crucial points by the Supreme Court 5-4, now giving power to Southern states–states with a history of voting violations and intimidation–to freely change their laws on voter eligibility. Through this new ruling, states can make their own voter ID requirements, exploiting people who could not afford government issued IDs; eliminate early voting periods, a means by which many people who work long hours can still vote; and also more drastic redistricting, ensuring at least a Republican majority in the House. The laws target people who are poor and underprivileged–many of which are of color, and many who would vote for a black president. Connect the dots, it really ain’t hard.
Last summer, I spent some time working with the ACLU and spreading awareness over these attacks on others’ civil liberties. It was troublesome with some of the responses I received. People couldn’t understand how these new laws were a violation of others’ civil liberties, or how they negatively affected people of color and poor. Most importantly, they didn’t understand how these laws exploited vulnerable citizens and were an obvious response towards the election of the first African-American President, Barack Obama.
These events–the new laws following the election of a black president–are not coincidences, they have been apart of an ongoing battle that spans 150 years. Every step towards equality was a hard fight. First with the 14th amendment, granting citizenship to all regardless of race, thus giving black men the ballot. To combat this, new Barriers were created by white southerners. With so many blacks still not able to vote, the 15th Amendment gave more freedom, and with that freedom came a flow of black political gains through black politicians being elected.
The current law could not help white southerners at this point, so they decided to take more control over their political destiny.They created poll taxes, charging people to vote; gerrymandered, rezoning districts to ensure white conservative victories; they had literacy tests, and whites would always pass while blacks would fail, despite if either of them could or could not read and write. The system was rigged in whites’ favor, and blacks would continue to endure a life of second-class citizenry.
By the 20th century, these methods, too, would be ruled out, and new methods naturally would take shape to replace the old: systematic intimidation. Blacks could be let go from jobs, perhaps beaten, and even killed when attempting to register to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 made violent means of suffrage-denial unconstitutional and established federal supervision over the zoning of districts, ensuring fair elections. From this point onward, Black Politics as people had known it made drastic changes. The elections of black Mayors, Governors, House Representatives, Senators, and even Barack Obama can be traced to this milestone legislation.
So when we look at this history and the battle of voting rights–how at every step of the way, a gain for equality was met with resistance from white supremacy–these events that occurred should make us upset, but not surprise us.
Even with the gains for marriage equality, this week was not a victory, rather only a compromise. History could never prepare us for where we are today, when on June 25, 2013, changes were made to the law again in response to the conflict, just not on the side of justice and equality. The Supreme Court abandoned its commitment towards equality for all.
Now, a lot more people are going to be denied the ballot, equal educational opportunities are on the brink of extinction, and that’s just in the last few days. Even if they defended marriage, the law has made it clear it does not stand on the side of universal justice.
Yes, remember this as the week people were free to love who they choose, but also remember it as the week millions of people would become prisoners once again, because they had lost their right to choose.