We hear lots of outrage about how Republicans block the vote. But blocking the vote by keeping third parties off the ballot with unjust laws in more than a dozen states is a project Democrats share with Republicans. Both capitalist parties know you can't vote against gentrification or mass incarceration or for a peace and justice candidate if no such candidates or parties are allowed on the ballot.
Black Democrats chose not to fight to consolidate voting rights victories of the sixties.
The US Constitution does not guarantee a right to vote, let alone the right to have votes counted equally or at all. For a whole generation after the passage of the 1964 and 1967 Voting Rights Act, black Democrats enjoyed an historic window of opportunity. Till the early 1990s they had the moral and political upper hand on voting rights, a favorable place from which they might have consolidated and nailed down the right to vote with a Constitutional amendment A right-to-vote Constitutional amendment would erase felony disenfranchisement, open the way to weekend and holiday voting, and the establishment of national standards for how districts are drawn, voters are registered and votes are counted. It would override the malicious voter ID laws Republican authorities in many states have instituted to keep Democrat leaning voters away from the polls.
But to our lazy corner-cutting, self-seeking black political class, hitting the ground to fire up a national movement to guarantee the right to vote looked like too damn much work. The black political class instead concentrated on getting elected and re-elected within the rules that existed, building their own careers, and boasting and roasting, coasting on and toasting to the triumphs of the 1960s. Gradually, the terrain shifted beneath their feet.
A quarter century after passage of the Voting Rights Act, Republicans began seizing the initiative to launch a block-the-vote offensive, beginning with refusal to implement the Clinton era Motor Voter laws. Twenty-five years down that road, the Republican block-the-vote campaign has enacted unjust laws requiring millions of perfectly qualified US citizens to produce expensive and hard to get documentation. Republicans have criminalized voter registration and absentee ballot drives by legislating minor clerical errors into felonies. Felony disenfranchisement laws remain on the books in several states with large black populations like Florida where up to a quarter of potential African American voters are blocked from the polls. Widespread instances of voter caging, selective mass challenges and other block-the-vote schemes carried out by private parties and local authorities to bar potential Democratic voters from the polls have become regular features of every election cycle. Federal courts all the way up to the Supremes have upheld block-the-vote laws and kneecapped the Voting Rights Acts of the sixties.
Without a Constitutional right to vote, any act of Congress or a state legislature, any whim of a mayor or county clerk, any malicious decision of a state or local election authority can and might, if you're black, brown, poor or belong to some identifiable group that's not likely to vote Republican, block your right to vote. While it's absolutely important to combat and condemn what has become an entire evil galaxy of Republican block-the-vote measures, it is equally important to note that none of these would have been possible if the black political class, Democrats all, had taken advantage of its historic opportunity to to mobilize and fight to write the right to vote into the US Constitution.
In the big picture, the historic failure of our black misleaderrship class of politicians, preachers and business types, almost all Democrats, to nail down voting rights for the African American polity should be no surprise. While Republicans and Democrats have very different voting constituencies, both capitalist parties get their money – and each will spend somewhere between 1 and 2 billion in the current presidential cycle, from the same narrow class of one per-centers. Both parties are abjectly dependent on Big Oil, Big Ag, Big Chemical, Big Insurance, Big Real Estate, military contractors and of course the privatizers, hedge funders and banksters who crashed the economy in 2007.
So where are black America's issues in this or any election?
The answer is nowhere. Given their like-minded funders, both parties favor permanent wars abroad, drones, boots on the ground, regime changes, no-fly zones. Either party will keep spending half the US government's expenditures on the military, with not much left for the things that matter to the rest of us. Both parties are for runamok privatizations of roads and public assets, and especially of public education.
Republicans tell you man-made climate change is a myth or a hoax and Democrats assure you it's quite real. but neither will negotiate a climate change agreement or step up to lead the nation and the world in retooling the global economy to avoid or mitigate climate disaster that threatens the lives of billions. Both parties want to build more nukes and frack everywhere including in deep offshore waters. Republicans called Keystone XL a “job creator” and a Democratic president reluctantly canceled it, but allowed the oil industry to build the equivalent of ten other Keystones under the radar since 2010.
Republicans want to ban immigration, and while Democrats say they favor a road to citizenship the Democrat in the White House has deported two million. Both parties favor tax breaks and giveaways to scofflaw corporations, and tout tourism, stadiums and gentrification as the only economic development engines for urban America. And while both parties bailed out the bankster and hedge fund guys who crashed the economy, neither party wants to bail out student debtors, or forgive homeowner and consumer debt.
Both parties brought us mass incarceration and the planet's foremost prison state, and neither seems eager to seriously roll it back. And with both capitalist parties silent on black unemployment (alarmingly low Department of Labor black workforce participation rates of 60% are almost certainly too high) on black child poverty (3 in every eight black children) and on the widening wealth gap between blacks and whites, your vote makes no difference on any of this.
Republicans Block the Vote by Blocking Voters. Democrats Cooperate With Republicans to Block Third Parties.
Both Democrats and Republicans know voters cannot cast their ballots for peace and justice candidates or parties if no such people or parties are allowed on the ballot.
Democrats and Republicans know you can't vote to forgive predatory student, homeowner, medical and consumer debt, though they had no trouble forking trillions over to the speculators, who crashed the economy. So they can't let forgive-the-debt and jail-the-bankers parties or candidates on the ballot either.
Democrats and Republicans won't let you vote on corporate tax breaks or fracking or clean air and water. They won't let you vote on raising social security or replacing Obamacare's mandates and private insurers with a national health service. Republicans and Democrats won't let you vote on fully funding public education or on creating millions of green jobs to retrofit existing housing for energy efficiency and begin building out the post-fossil fuel economy. So they dare not allow candidates or parties with these views on the ballot.
Democrats and Republicans know you can't vote against gentrification if no anti-gentrification candidates or parties in the election. You can't vote to address persistent black poverty and unemployment either if all the parties on the ballot are ignoring it.
How do they manage this? Since there's no Constitutional right to vote, every state gets to make up its own ballot access rules for parties. At least 9 states require third parties to come up with ten, twenty, thirty thousand and more signatures of registered voters in order to appear on the ballot. North Carolina requires 89,000 signatures and Georgia 50,000. Alabama and Tennessee require about 30,000. Pennsylvania, Illinois, Oklahoma and a couple others require 24 and 25 thousand, Indiana 22,600 and there are more.
This is how Republican and Democrat politicians block the vote, protecting themselves against competition from parties and candidates not funded by billionaires and corporations.
So Ballot Access For Third Parties Is Broken. Oh Well. Why Bother Fixing It?
So the two capitalist parties have locked down the electoral system for their masters. This ain't new news. What do you want, a revolution? I know I do. If that's what we ultimately desire, why should we even bother with the electoral stuff at all?
The simple answer is that people ain't ready for no revolution, or not nearly enough of them. The next steps in that direction involve an enormous amount of small d democratic persuasion and organization. Harriet Tubman said she could have freed a lot more slaves if they had only understood they were indeed slaves. That hasn't changed. You cannot organize hopeless people, people resigned to their fate. You can only organize people who believe they deserve a better deal than they're getting now.
The magic of elections is that it's a time when people are listening for and more willing than most other times to take part in conversations about how collective action on their part can make their lives better. The left cannot provide that conversation if we're not in the hunt, if we're not running our own campaigns with candidates in our own parties with our own agendas.
Running as Democrats absolutely won't do it. My generation of activists (I was born in 1950.) tried that – tried to hijack the Democratic party from below in the 70s, 80s and 90s. It's a longer story than I can tell here, but it didn't work.
Suppose for example you ran for county sheriff as a Democrat on a platform against mass incarceration and won. County sheriffs are responsible for county jails, so the first four simple things you'd want to do would be to (1) Fire and replace all the bad actors on your staff (2) Provide decent nutrition for the prisoners under your care (3) Provide decent medical care for the prisoners in your care (4) Provide meaningful educational opportunities for the people in your care.
As newly elected sheriff, you quickly discover that you can't do these things without the cooperation of other units of local and perhaps state government. But never mind the Republicans, members of your own party in elected office will denounce, obstruct and oppose you, possibly on up to county executives, state legislators, attorney general and the governor, if they're Democrats too. They'll use donations from police unions, jail contractors and other one-percenters to run candidates against you in Democratic primary elections, and they'll skimp on supporting you in general elections. But while you go out and get the votes only you can get, you'll be expected to pile them in to support the same Democrats at the top of the ticket who oppose you,
It's their party, not yours, and party unity under the top of the ticket is the standard, not mutual accountability.
Without a party outside and to the left of Democrats, we can't wage our own campaigns, we can't engage people in the real conversations about what matters to them and what can be done. Without a party, campaigns and candidates outside and to the left of Democrats we fail to engage with people at the times they're actually listening.
So Who's Working to Un-Block the Vote? Jill Stein and the Green Party? How is this happening?
The Green Party has lots of problems. It's moribund in some areas, disconnected from involvement in visible movements in others. Every other organization you can name has problems too, so the quest is not for an already perfected vehicle, but one that's in the right slot and can be adapted to the task.
Jill Stein was the Green party's 2012 candidate, along with running mate Cheri Honkala, and will likely receive their nomination for 2016. is the only peace candidate this year, the only one for cutting the Pentagon budget, addressing black poetry, unemployment and mass incarceration, the only one favoring abolition of student debt, and so on. She's running with the express aims of helping build and strengthen Green Party local organizations across the country, and achieving ballot access in 50 states and DC, something no Green candidate has ever done before. Even Ralph Nader, with more money and steam than any Green candidate before or since, skipped Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Indiana because the block to ballot access was just too difficult.
This year, the Green Party and the Jill Stein campaign are already organizing on the ground in North Carolina where 2.1 million African Americans live, and in Georgia, which has the largest black population of any of the 50 states, connecting with activists inside and outside the party, enlisting the aid of old and new friends. These two states have the steepest barriers to ballot access, requiring 89,000 and 50,000 petition signatures respectively. In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm co-chair of the Georgia Green party and as part of the Stein campaign's ballot access team, I have my own fingers in this. By the end of February we expect to be well on the way to meeting the May and July petition filing deadlines for these states, and to have field-tested organizing methods and models viable in other states where work will have already begun.
There are legal challenges to the unjust petition laws in court in several states, but nobody is foolish enough to expect relief from the courts in time for this election, if ever. There's ballot access legislation drafted and introduced too in several states including North Carolina but those same state legislatures are some of the same people who created the problem.
On November 20 in Atlanta Cornel West, a Bernie Sanders supporter, came out in support of what others at the meeting called Plan B for Bernie supporters. When Sanders folds his campaign and endorses Hillary Clinton (Cornel would say IF Bernie folds, not when) the good professor says Jill Stein and the Green Party need to be already on the ballot everywhere. But the Democratic convention is in August, much too late to launch ballot access drives in the dozen or so states where Democrats and Republicans have block-the-vote legislation in place.
In the 1990s, they rocked the vote. I was there, and had an organizing hand in registering 133,000 voters in the Chicago in 1992 alone. Go ask somebody. Now Repubs and Dems have blocked the vote. Our job now is to un-block the vote, and it's underway. Expect to hear more about it here, at www.jill2016.com, and on Facebook here.
To help out, email me at the address below, or you can fill out the volunteer form or donate to unblock the vote at http://www.jill2016.com/unblock_the_vote01 It's on.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and co-chair of the Ga Green party. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.