Archive for the ‘racism’ Category

The “culture wars” have been going on since before the founding of America – the Civil War, women’s suffrage, prohibition, desegregation/civil rights, religion in school, voting rights, abortion/reproCulture-Wars-Webductive rights, science versus faith, gay rights and more. In each of these there is/was a battle between tradition/faith (always in part justified by the Bible and conservative theology) and rationality/social progress. It’s a constant struggle over the meaning of America.

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BSyHpEiCQAA3aUkToday is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, and hundreds of thousands of Americans assembled again today at the Lincoln Memorial to honor the occasion. President Obama, among many notable speakers, reflected on “out great unfinished business.”

For those who can’t watch clips online, I’ve included a full transcript below, but pay particular attention to the way in which the president intertwined social and economic justice.

The men and women who gathered 50 years ago were not there in search of some abstract idea.  They were there seeking jobs as well as justice. Not just the absence of oppression but the presence of economic opportunity. For what does it profit a man, King would ask, to sit at an integrated lunch counter if he can’t afford the meal? This idea that one’s liberty is linked to one’s livelihood that, the pursuit of happiness requires the dignity of work, the skills to find work, decent pay, some measure of material security, this idea was not new.

It was a poignant reminder of the scope of the larger struggle, and the work that still must be done.

Here’s the transcript, by way of the White House:

To the King family, who have sacrificed and inspired so much; to President Clinton; President Carter; Vice President Biden and Jill; fellow Americans.

Five decades ago today, Americans came to this honored place to lay claim to a promise made at our founding: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In 1963, almost 200 years after those words were set to paper, a full century after a great war was fought and emancipation proclaimed, that promise — those truths — remained unmet. And so they came by the thousands from every corner of our country, men and women, young and old, blacks who longed for freedom and whites who could no longer accept freedom for themselves while witnessing the subjugation of others.

Across the land, congregations sent them off with food and with prayer. In the middle of the night, entire blocks of Harlem came out to wish them well. With the few dollars they scrimped from their labor, some bought tickets and boarded buses, even if they couldn’t always sit where they wanted to sit. Those with less money hitchhiked or walked. They were seamstresses and steelworkers, students and teachers, maids and Pullman porters. They shared simple meals and bunked together on floors. And then, on a hot summer day, they assembled here, in our nation’s capital, under the shadow of the Great Emancipator — to offer testimony of injustice, to petition their government for redress, and to awaken America’s long-slumbering conscience.

We rightly and best remember Dr. King’s soaring oratory that day, how he gave mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions; how he offered a salvation path for oppressed and oppressors alike. His words belong to the ages, possessing a power and prophecy unmatched in our time.

But we would do well to recall that day itself also belonged to those ordinary people whose names never appeared in the history books, never got on TV. Many had gone to segregated schools and sat at segregated lunch counters. They lived in towns where they couldn’t vote and cities where their votes didn’t matter. They were couples in love who couldn’t marry, soldiers who fought for freedom abroad that they found denied to them at home. They had seen loved ones beaten, and children fire-hosed, and they had every reason to lash out in anger, or resign themselves to a bitter fate.

And yet they chose a different path. In the face of hatred, they prayed for their tormentors. In the face of violence, they stood up and sat in, with the moral force of nonviolence. Willingly, they went to jail to protest unjust laws, their cells swelling with the sound of freedom songs. A lifetime of indignities had taught them that no man can take away the dignity and grace that God grants us. They had learned through hard experience what Frederick Douglass once taught — that freedom is not given, it must be won, through struggle and discipline, persistence and faith.

That was the spirit they brought here that day. That was the spirit young people like John Lewis brought to that day. That was the spirit that they carried with them, like a torch, back to their cities and their neighborhoods. That steady flame of conscience and courage that would sustain them through the campaigns to come — through boycotts and voter registration drives and smaller marches far from the spotlight; through the loss of four little girls in Birmingham, and the carnage of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and the agony of Dallas and California and Memphis. Through setbacks and heartbreaks and gnawing doubt, that flame of justice flickered; it never died.

And because they kept marching, America changed. Because they marched, a Civil Rights law was passed. Because they marched, a Voting Rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes. (Applause.) Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed, and Congress changed, and, yes, eventually, the White House changed. (Applause.)

Because they marched, America became more free and more fair — not just for African Americans, but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans; for Catholics, Jews, and Muslims; for gays, for Americans with a disability. America changed for you and for me. and the entire world drew strength from that example, whether the young people who watched from the other side of an Iron Curtain and would eventually tear down that wall, or the young people inside South Africa who would eventually end the scourge of apartheid. (Applause.)

Those are the victories they won, with iron wills and hope in their hearts. That is the transformation that they wrought, with each step of their well-worn shoes. That’s the debt that I and millions of Americans owe those maids, those laborers, those porters, those secretaries; folks who could have run a company maybe if they had ever had a chance; those white students who put themselves in harm’s way, even though they didn’t have; those Japanese Americans who recalled their own internment; those Jewish Americans who had survived the Holocaust; people who could have given up and given in, but kept on keeping on, knowing that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” (Applause.)

On the battlefield of justice, men and women without rank or wealth or title or fame would liberate us all in ways that our children now take for granted, as people of all colors and creeds live together and learn together and walk together, and fight alongside one another, and love one another, and judge one another by the content of our character in this greatest nation on Earth. (Applause.)

To dismiss the magnitude of this progress — to suggest, as some sometimes do, that little has changed — that dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years. (Applause.) Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Martin Luther King Jr. — they did not die in vain. (Applause.) Their victory was great.

But we would dishonor those heroes as well to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete. The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own. To secure the gains this country has made requires constant vigilance, not complacency. Whether by challenging those who erect new barriers to the vote, or ensuring that the scales of justice work equally for all, and the criminal justice system is not simply a pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails, it requires vigilance. (Applause.)

And we’ll suffer the occasional setback. But we will win these fights. This country has changed too much. (Applause.) People of goodwill, regardless of party, are too plentiful for those with ill will to change history’s currents. (Applause.)

In some ways, though, the securing of civil rights, voting rights, the eradication of legalized discrimination — the very significance of these victories may have obscured a second goal of the March. For the men and women who gathered 50 years ago were not there in search of some abstract ideal. They were there seeking jobs as well as justice — (applause) — not just the absence of oppression but the presence of economic opportunity. (Applause.)

For what does it profit a man, Dr. King would ask, to sit at an integrated lunch counter if he can’t afford the meal? This idea — that one’s liberty is linked to one’s livelihood; that the pursuit of happiness requires the dignity of work, the skills to find work, decent pay, some measure of material security — this idea was not new. Lincoln himself understood the Declaration of Independence in such terms — as a promise that in due time, “the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.”

And Dr. King explained that the goals of African Americans were identical to working people of all races: “Decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community.”

What King was describing has been the dream of every American. It’s what’s lured for centuries new arrivals to our shores. And it’s along this second dimension — of economic opportunity, the chance through honest toil to advance one’s station in life — where the goals of 50 years ago have fallen most short.

Yes, there have been examples of success within black America that would have been unimaginable a half century ago. But as has already been noted, black unemployment has remained almost twice as high as white unemployment, Latino unemployment close behind. The gap in wealth between races has not lessened, it’s grown. And as President Clinton indicated, the position of all working Americans, regardless of color, has eroded, making the dream Dr. King described even more elusive.

For over a decade, working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate, even as corporate profits soar, even as the pay of a fortunate few explodes. Inequality has steadily risen over the decades. Upward mobility has become harder. In too many communities across this country, in cities and suburbs and rural hamlets, the shadow of poverty casts a pall over our youth, their lives a fortress of substandard schools and diminished prospects, inadequate health care and perennial violence.

And so as we mark this anniversary, we must remind ourselves that the measure of progress for those who marched 50 years ago was not merely how many blacks could join the ranks of millionaires. It was whether this country would admit all people who are willing to work hard regardless of race into the ranks of a middle-class life. (Applause.)

The test was not, and never has been, whether the doors of opportunity are cracked a bit wider for a few. It was whether our economic system provides a fair shot for the many — for the black custodian and the white steelworker, the immigrant dishwasher and the Native American veteran. To win that battle, to answer that call — this remains our great unfinished business.

We shouldn’t fool ourselves. The task will not be easy. Since 1963, the economy has changed. The twin forces of technology and global competition have subtracted those jobs that once provided a foothold into the middle class — reduced the bargaining power of American workers. And our politics has suffered. Entrenched interests, those who benefit from an unjust status quo, resisted any government efforts to give working families a fair deal — marshaling an army of lobbyists and opinion makers to argue that minimum wage increases or stronger labor laws or taxes on the wealthy who could afford it just to fund crumbling schools, that all these things violated sound economic principles. We’d be told that growing inequality was a price for a growing economy, a measure of this free market; that greed was good and compassion ineffective, and those without jobs or health care had only themselves to blame.

And then, there were those elected officials who found it useful to practice the old politics of division, doing their best to convince middle-class Americans of a great untruth — that government was somehow itself to blame for their growing economic insecurity; that distant bureaucrats were taking their hard-earned dollars to benefit the welfare cheat or the illegal immigrant.

And then, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that during the course of 50 years, there were times when some of us claiming to push for change lost our way. The anguish of assassinations set off self-defeating riots. Legitimate grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse-making for criminal behavior. Racial politics could cut both ways, as the transformative message of unity and brotherhood was drowned out by the language of recrimination. And what had once been a call for equality of opportunity, the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead was too often framed as a mere desire for government support — as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child, and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself.

All of that history is how progress stalled. That’s how hope was diverted. It’s how our country remained divided. But the good news is, just as was true in 1963, we now have a choice. We can continue down our current path, in which the gears of this great democracy grind to a halt and our children accept a life of lower expectations; where politics is a zero-sum game where a few do very well while struggling families of every race fight over a shrinking economic pie — that’s one path. Or we can have the courage to change.

The March on Washington teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history; that we are masters of our fate. But it also teaches us that the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together. We’ll have to reignite the embers of empathy and fellow feeling, the coalition of conscience that found expression in this place 50 years ago.

And I believe that spirit is there, that truth force inside each of us. I see it when a white mother recognizes her own daughter in the face of a poor black child. I see it when the black youth thinks of his own grandfather in the dignified steps of an elderly white man. It’s there when the native-born recognizing that striving spirit of the new immigrant; when the interracial couple connects the pain of a gay couple who are discriminated against and understands it as their own.

That’s where courage comes from — when we turn not from each other, or on each other, but towards one another, and we find that we do not walk alone. That’s where courage comes from. (Applause.)

And with that courage, we can stand together for good jobs and just wages. With that courage, we can stand together for the right to health care in the richest nation on Earth for every person. (Applause.) With that courage, we can stand together for the right of every child, from the corners of Anacostia to the hills of Appalachia, to get an education that stirs the mind and captures the spirit, and prepares them for the world that awaits them. (Applause.)

With that courage, we can feed the hungry, and house the homeless, and transform bleak wastelands of poverty into fields of commerce and promise.

America, I know the road will be long, but I know we can get there. Yes, we will stumble, but I know we’ll get back up. That’s how a movement happens. That’s how history bends. That’s how when somebody is faint of heart, somebody else brings them along and says, come on, we’re marching. (Applause.)

There’s a reason why so many who marched that day, and in the days to come, were young — for the young are unconstrained by habits of fear, unconstrained by the conventions of what is. They dared to dream differently, to imagine something better. And I am convinced that same imagination, the same hunger of purpose stirs in this generation.

We might not face the same dangers of 1963, but the fierce urgency of now remains. We may never duplicate the swelling crowds and dazzling procession of that day so long ago — no one can match King’s brilliance — but the same flame that lit the heart of all who are willing to take a first step for justice, I know that flame remains. (Applause.)

That tireless teacher who gets to class early and stays late and dips into her own pocket to buy supplies because she believes that every child is her charge — she’s marching. (Applause.)

That successful businessman who doesn’t have to but pays his workers a fair wage and then offers a shot to a man, maybe an ex-con who is down on his luck — he’s marching. (Applause.)

The mother who pours her love into her daughter so that she grows up with the confidence to walk through the same door as anybody’s son — she’s marching. (Applause.)

The father who realizes the most important job he’ll ever have is raising his boy right, even if he didn’t have a father — especially if he didn’t have a father at home — he’s marching. (Applause.)

The battle-scarred veterans who devote themselves not only to helping their fellow warriors stand again, and walk again, and run again, but to keep serving their country when they come home — they are marching. (Applause.)

Everyone who realizes what those glorious patriots knew on that day — that change does not come from Washington, but to Washington; that change has always been built on our willingness, We The People, to take on the mantle of citizenship — you are marching. (Applause.)

And that’s the lesson of our past. That’s the promise of tomorrow — that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it. That when millions of Americans of every race and every region, every faith and every station, can join together in a spirit of brotherhood, then those mountains will be made low, and those rough places will be made plain, and those crooked places, they straighten out towards grace, and we will vindicate the faith of those who sacrificed so much and live up to the true meaning of our creed, as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. (Applause.)

wrong side of history

vote

why the voting rights act matters

Hey!  To all nine of my readers – just in case you missed it or aren’t aware of the significance of this particular ruling by the Supremes this past week, I want to lay it out in very simple terms.

Background:  In elections Republicans do terrible with minorities.  Blacks and Latinos, in particular, vote against Republicans almost 3 to 1.  That’s pretty much unsurvivable, if you’re the GOP.

Two ways the GOP could fix this:

1.  Change what you look like to Latino and black voters.  You know, things like stop voting only FOR the things that the corporations are paying you to vote for and AGAINST the things the corporations are paying you to vote against.  Examples: Raise the minimum raise, stop giving tax breaks to wealthy corporations while cutting food stamps for our neediest citizens, vote for jobs and education and background checks for gun purchases, and stop voting against reforms in health care, immigration and taxes.  Basically, try to erase the Republican “I hate minorities” image you have earned over the past many decades.

OR, of course, you could instead:

2.  Do everything you possibly can to keep minorities from voting.  

And, because this is the option the Republicans have historically chosen (and the option they apparently continue to choose when left to their own devices), Congress created the VOTING RIGHTS PROTECTION ACT.  

The Voting Rights Protection Act
Simply put:  Back in the 1960s the federal government recognized that there were some states and districts with long histories of disenfranchising minorities when it came to voting, and that, when left to themselves, these states would most likely do whatever they could to continue this tradition.  So Congress put into place a sort of second set of eyes by giving the Department of Justice the responsibility to review proposed changes in state election laws in these states and the power to veto laws that they determined to be racist or discriminatory.  And despite protests by some state law makers who claimed that their states had long ago abandoned discriminatory practices, this Act has since been renewed and amended by Congress four times, the most recent being a 25-year extension signed into law by PresidenGeorge W. Bush in 2006.  Needless to say, this Act has been seen as a landmark victory for civil rights and a source of empowerment for millions of citizens over the years.  

ZLpEd.La.91How it actually works:  A case study
In 2011, Texas Republicans put up a bill requiring that, if you wanted to vote, you had to have specific documentation that you never had to show before.  By their own estimate, these Republican lawmakers claimed that over 800,000 registered Texan voters did not have this ID…and that over 3/4 of these people were Latino.  An example of acceptable voter ID:  Your concealed weapon permit.  An example of unacceptable voter ID:  Your student ID (complete with photo).  Another unacceptable form of voter ID:  Your veterans ID card.  Seriously.

Well, when the Justice Department reviewed this proposed law they said, basically, “Um….no.  You can’t change your laws to knowingly block hundreds of thousands of Latinos from voting.”  So they vetoed it – they blocked this effort to keep minorities away from the polls.

And that’s not the only Texas Republican attempt to cheat their way to victory.  After the 2010 census these same lawmakers created new congressional districts with (according to a federal court) “discriminatory purposes.”  Texas Republicans took away the seats of minority law makers and redrew the districts of white lawmakers to make those seats easier for white lawmakers to win and hold on to.  In the new maps, the court noted, not a single white lawmaker lost his or her seat, but black lawmakers had their districts whittled out from under them.  Again, the federal court looked at this and said, in effect, “Nice try…but no way.”

This week, though, the law that allowed the feds to block those moves in Texas (and in many other locations around the country) images-177was gutted.  And in gutting the Voting Rights Protection Act, the conservative Supremes also threw out both of these protective Texas vetoes.   

So Texas is now good to go.

And guess what?  Texas Republicans wasted no time.  The voter ID law that was blocked for being too racist and the new election maps that were blocked for being too racist – these laws that were too obviously racist to be legal- they are suddenly legal, and Texas Republicans are going for it!  Remember, the Texas laws referenced above were officially called “obviously racially motivated” and “an attempt to keep whites in power.”  That’s why they were blocked.  But now Texan Republicans are going ahead with these laws.  So is Mississippi.  So is Alabama.  So is North Carolina.  This isn’t theoretical – it’s not that they are cleared to begin considering these racist laws.  The Republican controlled states are actually doing it, this week, right now.

images-176Red states that had wanted to change their election laws in racially discriminatory ways, but couldn’t get away with it because of the Voting Rights Protection Act – those red states are charging full steam ahead with racially discriminatory new election laws.

And now it’s up to Congress to decide whether or not they want a “national fix for this problem,” which Obama is now calling for.  The big question:  Are national Republicans going take the side of these far right state legislators and set us back 50 years, or will they take the side of civil rights, human dignity and fairness and help move us forward toward a future of equality and decency?

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I don’t want everybody to vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

-Paul Weyrich, conservative activist, to a gathering of evangelical leaders

Ok, here’s the bottom line. Republicans know they’re seriously in trouble. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) put it really well recently when he said:

We’re losing the demographics race badly. We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.

images-112Exactly. The Republicans are seriously in danger of going the way of the Whig Party. Right now 69% of US citizens are of European decent. That means that white men are already in the minority, representing around 34% of the population. (And the angry ones? Less than that!)

In 7 years white people will make up less than 60% of the US population, and a few decades later white people will technically be minorities, and white men will make up less than one quarter of the population.

What does this mean for Republicans, whose main voting block are white men over age 50, and whose platform basically tends to offend women, young people and minorities? The GOP platform is perceived as being:
AGAINST: Women’s rights, civil rights, reproductive rights, gay rights, safety nets for the poor, investments in science and education, citizenship for immigrants, and many other positions that the majority of Americans support, and
FOR: The wealthiest one percent, corporations, tradition, religion, nationalism, fetuses (not mothers or children) and legislating morality.

(I’m not saying this IS their platform – but it’s certainly perceived that way by most Americans.)

Here’s the truth that Republicans are well aware of: The majority of Americans vote Democrat, and lean center left, politically. And this trend is only going to become more and more pronounced as the older white guys die off, and younger, less white people become of age. So – the Republicans have a real problem.

And their solution? What most conservative politicians are doing now is working to adjust their platform to better reflect the values and beliefs of the people they represent.

Ha ha! Just joking! (I crack myself up.) No, what they’re doing instead is coming up with more and more creative ways to keep people away from the polls. They know only too well that higher voter turnout means more votes for Democrats – and the less likely the Republicans are to remain in power. So – their last desperate effort, before they become completely irrelevant and fade into the history books, is to figure out how to make it hard to vote if you’re not an older white guy.

Following is a brief primer on the many ways the GOP has been trying to steal the vote.

1. Instill fear
They put up really scary billboards in Ohio and Michigan, only in poor images-115African-American neighborhoods, warning people that VOTER FRAUD IS A CRIME THAT COULD LEAD TO IMPRISONMENT.

This is blatant voter intimidation. A direct attack in the heart of African American community meant to scare people and keep them from exercising their right to vote.

-Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland

2. Distribute misleading information
They printed voter registration cards and bookmarks in Arizona, listing the correct election date (Nov. 6) in English and the wrong date (Nov. 8) in the Spanish translation. Hispanic voter registration has surged 51 percent in Arizona since 2008 amid frustration over the state’s hard-line immigration policies.

3. Wait us out
Republicans severely limited voters’ opportunities by closing polling places, shortening voting hours, cutting way back on early voting days, and more. (Their stated reasons? Saving money.) As a result, many voters were squished onto a final Saturday of early voting, with lines so long the last voters in Miami cast their ballots at 1 a.m. Voters all over the country were forced to leave lines to care for children or keep appointments. It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of voters were kept away in 2012 due to long lines – some up to 6 to 8 hours long!

4. Make voting more inconvenient
In dozens of states, Republicans have backed legislation that would limit the forms of identification that voters are allowed to show at the polls before voting. In some states they are proposing that the voter registration cards people received when they registered to vote would NOT be sufficient ID.

5. Keeping the students away from the polls.
A bill filed in the North Carolina General Assembly this week would remove the state images-114income tax deduction for dependents who register at an address other than their parents. In other words, parents of college kids would be punished with a new tax if their kids registered to vote at school – thus pressuring the kids not to register to vote.

The bill would also require vehicle registration to correspond with voter registration. Since college students tend to keep their cars registered at home, this would also cut down on students voting. They also added this special feature: a restriction on early voting and the elimination of same-day voter registration.

This North Carolina “poll tax” is intended to stop Democratic-leaning students from voting

The practical impact of the legislation is that it would cut into Democratic dominance in many states that have a strong student vote. According the Newsweek:

The youth vote is no longer dismissible: In 2008, then candidate Obama promised to energize the youth vote like no candidate had done before him. Eyes rolled — including ours. But Obama was right. Voters aged 18-29 comprised 18 percent of the electorate in 2008 and Obama won them by 34 points. Surely, skeptics insisted, that showing was a one-off — built around Obama’s nonpartisan call for “hope” and “change.” Or not. According to the latest national exit polling, 19 percent of the electorate was aged 18-29 and Obama won that group by 24 points. Once is an anomaly. Twice is a new political reality. The only question going forward is whether the youth vote is tied to President Obama uniquely or whether it is an advantage for Democrats more broadly.

So here’s the plan: If the Republicans can’t get young people to vote for their big business-purchased policies, they’ll simply stop them from voting all together.

GOP poll tax sponsors know college students are less likely to vote absentee

Empirical analysis has shown that college students are less likely to vote if they use the absentee balloting process than if they do so in person, and black students are even less likely to take advantage of the absentee process than their white counterparts.

Voting is an exercise in collective action; citizens in general, not just young ones, are less likely to vote if it is turned into an individual pursuit. Matters between you and your neighbors or classmates are more likely to be taken seriously than matters between you and your P.O. box. In other words, your P.O. box won’t judge you if you don’t honor your social commitments by not voting.

images-113What the old, white North Carolina Republicans who are good at snail-mail realize all too well is that young, diverse college students are quite the opposite: they’re really bad at snail-mail. Expecting college students to locate an absentee ballot request form, print it out, fill it out, mail it to the correct registrar’s office, retrieve their ballot in a timely manner, fill that out and mail it back is a losing (or, if you’re a Republican, winning) proposition.

Regardless, the issue here isn’t why college students don’t vote absentee, it’s that Republicans know they don’t, and are using that fact to stop college kids from voting all together since they don’t vote for enough Republicans. The GOP is crafting legislation intended to stop college kids from voting, lest they vote more Democratic than Republican.

Cheating America out of its vote
Republican officials have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama. Just as Dixiecrats once used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots.

In a systematic campaign orchestrated, funded in part by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who bankrolled the Tea Party, 38 states introduced legislation this year designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process.

One of the most pervasive political movements going on outside Washington today is the disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time. Why is all of this going on? This is not rocket science. There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today.

-Bill Clinton

Rampant voter fraud?

To hear Republicans tell it, they are waging a virtuous campaign to crack down on 116880_600rampant voter fraud. In 2006, the Justice Department fired two U.S. attorneys who refused to pursue trumped-up cases of voter fraud in New Mexico and Washington, and Karl Rove called illegal voting “an enormous and growing problem.”

Even at the time, there was no evidence to back up such claims. It’s been said that voter fraud in the US is slightly more common than unicorns. A major probe by the Justice Department between 2002 and 2007 failed to prosecute a single person for going to the polls and impersonating an eligible voter, which the anti-fraud laws are supposedly designed to stop. Out of the 300 million votes cast in that period, federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud – and many of the cases involved immigrants and former felons who were simply unaware of their ineligibility.

“Our democracy is under siege from an enemy so small it could be hiding anywhere,” joked Stephen Colbert.

A 2007 report by the Brennan Center for Justice, a leading advocate for voting rights at the New York University School of Law, quantified the problem in stark terms. “It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning,” the report calculated, “than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”

GOP outcries over the phantom menace of voter fraud escalated after 2008, when Obama’s candidacy attracted historic numbers of first-time voters. In the 29 states that record party affiliation, roughly two-thirds of new voters registered as Democrats in 2007 and 2008 – and Obama won nearly 70 percent of their votes. In Florida alone, Democrats added more than 600,000 new voters in the run-up to the 2008 election, and those who went to the polls favored Obama over John McCain by 19 points. “This latest flood of attacks on voting rights is a direct shot at the communities that came out in historic numbers for the first time in 2008 and put Obama over the top,” says Tova Wang, an elections-reform expert at Demos, a progressive think tank.

No one has done more to stir up fears about the manufactured threat of voter fraud than Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a top adviser in the Bush Justice Department who has become a rising star in the GOP. This year, Kobach successfully fought for a law requiring every Kansan to show proof of citizenship in order to vote – even though the state prosecuted only one case of voter fraud in the past five years. The new restriction fused anti-immigrant hysteria with voter-fraud paranoia. “In Kansas, the illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive,” Kobach claimed, offering no substantiating evidence.

Kobach also asserted that dead people were casting ballots, singling out a deceased Kansan named Alfred K. Brewer as one such zombie voter. There was only one problem: Brewer was still very much alive. The Wichita Eagle found him working in his front yard. “I don’t think this is heaven,” Brewer told the paper. “Not when I’m raking leaves.”

This isn’t about stopping vote-stealing and other corruption, for which there are already plenty of laws on the books. It’s about rigging the system to keep power.