When is Joshua gonna blow that horn on voting rights? Time is running out.
So why aren't national Democratic leaders drawing national attention to Republican attempts to disenfranchise their party's base vote, and to criminalize voter registration. And as the barriers to free exercise of the vote are erected higher and higher, what if Barack Obama, the self-proclaimed "Johsua gneeration" candidate? When will he blow his horn in the issues of voter suppression and disenfranchisement?
"From the earliest days of the Bush Administration, the Justice Department has quietly spearheaded an offensive against grassroots voter registration drives in black and Latino communities."
Self-proclaimed "Joshua generation" candidate Barack Obama launched his political career with a highly successful 1992 Chicago voter registration drive. But instead of barriers to ballot access on the part of minorities tumbling down on "Joshua's" watch they are becoming higher. Where is Joshua's trumpet on the erosion of voting rights, the legal sanctions and limitations placed upon present-day voter registration drives, and the wholesale ethnic cleansing of voter rolls?
From the earliest days of the Bush Administration, the Justice Department has quietly spearheaded an offensive against grassroots voter registration drives in black and Latino communities. It has encouraged state governments to effectively nullify key provisions of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, and turned a blind eye to purges of hundreds of thousands of minority voters in places like Florida and Ohio. It has given its blessing to crippling fines and jail sentences for routine errors committed by the organizers of voter registration drives. Federal prosecutors have made spurious announcements on election eve which appear to link increased minority turnout to anticipated vote fraud. The lack of sufficient enthusiasm for the cause of suppressing the black and brown vote is thought to have been a major factor in the recent political dismissals of several US attorneys.
A paper issued by the Brennan Center For Justice late last year, Cast Out: Voter Supression Strategies 2006 and Beyond, identifies five principal means of 21st century voter suppression, all of which occur long before election day in state legislatures, in the offices of election officials, and in the federal government.
These are voting machine security, election day voter ID and "proof of citizenship" laws, purges of the voter rolls, database obstacles to getting on the voter rolls, and measures that penalize and restrict voter registration drives. The silence of Democratic party leaders and presidential candidates, including those who liken themselves to trumpet-toting Old Testament figures, is deafening.
In 2004, Rev. Edward Pinkney, a local community leader in Benton Harbor, Michigan, organized a voter registration drive. He did all the things you're supposed to do --- knocking on doors, canvassing, passing out and collecting registration forms. He raised and spent money to aid the efforts of volunteers, and made certain his newly registered voters did their duty either by absentee ballot or in person at the polls on election day. Pinkney signed up about 2,500 new voters in all, and his efforts turned a local recall election of some unpopular county commissioners by 54 votes.
Project VOTE engineers large scale registration drives in locations where a surge in the black vote can alter the results of an nationally significant election. In 1992, Illinois was the target, and Project VOTE named Barack Obama its Illinois director. This reporter was one of three field organizers who worked under Obama in the summer of 1992.
Using to full advantage black Chicago's decades-long tradition of civic mobilization we reached out to dozens of community groups from sororities and churches, to unions and motorcycle clubs, and put 120,000 voters on the rolls that summer, mostly blacks, Latinos and gays. We did the same things in Chicago in 1992 that Rev. Pinkney did in Benton Harbor 12 years later. We raised and distributed funds, trained volunteers to work festivals, street corners, churches, workplaces, to distribute and collect registration forms, to photocopy them before turning the forms in. We showed them how to worked the phones recontacting new voters, arranged to offer them absentee ballots and chased them to the polls election day, enabling the victory that year of Carol Moseley Braun, the first and only black woman ever to sit in the US Senate.
"In many states it's already illegal to conduct registration drives like the one Obama headed up in 1992."
That was the summer Obama made his political bones in Chicago and launched his political career. But for Rev. Pinkney, 12 years later the reward of a successful voter registration drive was a spurious and vindictive prosecution for vote fraud. Convicted on the uncorroborated and highly shaky testimony of a paid informer Rev. Pinkney now faces a May 14 sentencing for as many as twenty years in prison for possessing three absentee ballots, and allegedly paying someone $5 to cast a vote, though other witnesses at Pinkney's trial contend the $5 was to pass out flyers on election day.
For more information about the case of Rev. Edward Pinkney, readers are encouraged to visit his web site at http://bhbanco.blogspot.com/
In Florida, the punitive system of deadlines and fines enacted last year aimed specifically at nonpartisan grassroots voter registration drives caused the League of Women Voters, SEIU and the AFLCIO to withdraw from voter registration activities after the League was fined $70,000 for 14 lost registration forms. If the1992 Chicago registration drive had been conducted under these rules, we would have been fined a six figure sum, and Obama, this reporter, as one of the field organizers and some others might have done penitentiary time. Although a federal judge eventually threw out the Florida law, heading off identical or worse measures in Georgia, New Mexico, Colorado and Ohio, 2007 and 2008 are certain to see further legal efforts to put voter registration organizations out of business.
In many states it's already illegal to conduct registration drives like the one Obama headed up in 1992. There are states which ban reimbursement of volunteers registrars, even for lunch or travel expenses, which prohibit the capture of registrant addresses from forms by the volunteer organization so that new voters may not be contacted, and a host of other invidious restrictions on registration activities. Again, it is no exaggeration to say that the barriers to equal ballot access on the part of the poor and minorities are not tumbling down. They are growing higher every month. We're wondering when Joshua will blow that horn.
Senator Obama's record on protecting the vote so far is worth remembering. His first act as a US Senator was to sit down and shut up on the question of the dubious 2004 Ohio electoral vote when the Congressional Black Caucus and California Senator Barbara Boxer spoke up and stood up. Obama's second act as a US Senator was to join his new colleagues, who voted 74 to 1 to accept Ohio's tainted electoral vote. How much longer will we wait before Joshua actually blows that horn?
Bruce Dixon is the Atlanta-based Managing Editor at Black Agenda Report. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com