America’s war for democracy

LEE A. DANIELS | 4/25/2016, 7:12 a.m.
The conservative movement’s war against democracy in America has erupted on two fronts within the last month in ways that ...
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His most recent book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America. He collaborated with Rachel Robinson on her 1998 book, Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait. NNPA

(George Curry Media) – The conservative movement’s war against democracy in America has erupted on two fronts within the last month in ways that sharply illuminate the threat to many Americans’ rights – especially their right to vote in many states this November.

First, less than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of same-sex couples to marry, recent anti-LGBT laws hurriedly enacted in North Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi, while ostensibly aimed just at transgendered individuals, actually have a much broader intent: to undermine the laws and regulations banning discrimination against bisexuals, gays and lesbians as well.

Proponents of the measures, and similar ones under consideration in other states, claim they’re not discriminatory but merely seek to protect individuals’ “religious freedom” – “to stop,” as Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant put it, “the government from interfering with people of faith who are exercising their religious beliefs.”

Of course, that dodge – using an asserted religious faith to justify discrimination – was a pillar of the vicious legalized racism Black Southerners endured during the long reign of Jim Crow. So, this scenario of continued widespread resistance among conservatives to a Supreme Court decision expanding democracy should seem familiar.

Indeed, the story of the stalwart, nonviolent struggle Black Americans waged from the 1940s to the mid-1960s to gain that fundamental marker of citizenship, the right to vote, is especially important to remember today, both in considering the new anti-LBGT reaction and on its own merits.

In the latter decades, Blacks and their allies among other Americans had to overcome the hydra-headed “massive resistance” of Southern segregationists, who used fear-mongering, political subterfuge, economic intimidation and outright physical violence to try to continue their evil regime.

Many Americans thought that struggle had been won forever with the enactment of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. But the remarkable progress the law produced was shadowed by irrefutable proof that massive resistance to racial inclusion had not disappeared. Instead, adopted in the mid-1960s by its new advocates, the Republican Party, it had just shape-shifted into more cloaked, seemingly race-neutral forms.

Those innumerable, continual attempts to undermine the voting law were stymied – until the Supreme Court’s conservative majority in 2013 struck down the VRA’s key protective provision. The result: an intensifying of GOP-controlled state legislatures’ efforts to enact laws and voting procedures intended to limit the number of eligible Black and Hispanic voters who actually get to vote.

This GOP-driven campaign of massive resistance has nothing to do with protecting the voting process. It has everything to do with preserving White conservative rule, especially now that the American population is becoming more and more racially and ethnically diverse.

For example, it’s no coincidence that two of the most significant voting rights cases since the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision come from Texas, where the state’s Hispanic population will soon surpass that of Whites. The sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia – which dashed conservative expectations of another anti-democratic voting rights ruling from the court in one of the Texas cases – will undoubtedly ratchet up conservative campaigns to block voters of color, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic, from getting to the ballot boxes.