My parents are from the Caribbean, and they are VERY Caribbean. There are about five columns I could write describing what that means, but for today, I’ll stick with just one of the values they instilled in their children: voting. My brother, sister and I are all very civically minded, having all worked in politics at some point. But my parents didn’t push us to actually go into government — they pushed us to be involved in the process; to vote, to know the issues and to speak our mind. It’s something that is very much a part of me, and it’s what causes me to give a giant side-eye to some of the voting shenanigans I see going on today.
The cynic in me says that the conservatives and their allies realize that for various reasons they will not be getting a large part of the African-American vote in 2012. So what’s the next best thing to not getting that vote? You split it, depress it or try to prevent voting from happening altogether. This is not paranoia speaking — there are real forces out there that are not interested in seeing you head to the polls, and I think it’s incumbent on all of us to know what they are.
In the split/depress-the-vote camp, you have the folks from NOM — the National Organization for Marriage. Sounds innocent enough — who could be against marriage? Well, NOM is, if you happen to be gay. It’s no secret that within the Black community, gay marriage is a topic of controversy. And while there is a growing acceptance of gay marriage, according to recent polls, there are still pockets of entrenched opposition within the community.
Never one to miss an opportunity, NOM has set about trying to exploit that divide and make it appear larger than it is. That has always been my suspicion, anyway, and just a few weeks ago it was confirmed with the release of secret documents. NOM actually put into writing that it wants to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks” by convincing them to fight over the language of “civil rights.” So with this effort, the folks at NOM thought they could get a twofer — defeat marriage equality initiatives and draw a wedge between black voters and President Obama. Now that they’ve been fully exposed, there is hope that their tactics won’t work.
Equally insidious are the efforts across the country to make voting harder for millions of Americans. Dozens of states have enacted or are trying to enact voter ID laws that go beyond the pale of what is necessary. Proponents claim this is necessary to combat voter fraud, but in reality there is no large-scale voter fraud problem in this country.
The fact is, there are very few cases of voter fraud across the country — this is a “solution” in search of a problem, a solution that happens to be disenfranchising millions. Eleven percent of all Americans do not have a government-issued ID, and as many as 25 percent of African-Americans do not have one. For college students, many states are making it more difficult for them to vote in the state they go to school in. Texas tried to pass a law where you can vote with your gun registration but not your college ID. How does that even make sense?
It doesn’t. Unless your goal is to depress voting among key constituencies that tend to vote Democratic: communities of color, the elderly and young people. And for those who are saying to themselves, “Why can’t people just get ID?” it’s not always that easy. Example after example is popping up across the country of people having problems voting when they’ve never had any problems before.
I just don’t get it. There should be national outrage over this. Ours should be a country where we are making it EASIER for people to vote, not harder. Over our nation’s history, African-Americans, women and other minorities had to fight to get the right to vote, and it seems like we’re sliding backwards. Every election day, I get on my little soapbox and lecture my friends about how important it is that they vote. Even if it’s to write in somebody else, they should go to polls for two reasons. For one, in many parts of the world, people don’t have that basic right. And two, many of our ancestors shed blood, sweat and tears to make sure that we’d be able to vote, so we owe it to them to do so.
This year I’ll have to amend that lecture to include becoming educated on the issues and not get sidetracked by people looking to create diversions and divisions, and to also make sure that they and their friends and families know exactly what they’ll need to vote. While others are fighting back against these laws in courts, we can all do our part to make sure we’re prepared and informed.
Daniella Gibbs Léger, a former special assistant to President Obama, is the Vice President for American Values and New Communities at the Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter @dgibber123