The Souls to the Polls movement encourages African American church attendees to get out and vote. The churches that promote this movement cannot, because of their 501-c-3 status, endorse candidates. They can, however, emphasize the gospel of social and economic justice and preach the gospel of civic participation.
People heard the message and got to vote in 2020 and, in Georgia, 2021. When Rev. Raphael Warnock decided to challenge appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler, he galvanized people to support him. So in the past few months, the Georgia legislature has crafted a bill to attack how churches, civic organizations and others get the vote out.
The Georgia legislation seems primarily focused on the ways civic organizations got voters to the polls. They want to eliminate drop boxes, restrict voter hours, and even limit absentee voting to the disabled or make requesters prove they are out of town. They have surgically gone into the voter turnout playbook and attacked it step by step.
We aren’t surprised. Our nation’s so-called “law and order” crew have always attempted to suppress the Black vote with absurd conditions for participation. I’ll never forget my great-aunt, Annie Mae Randall, learning the Latin passages she needed to translate to qualify to vote. Latin in 1960s Mississippi? The idiots who imposed this requirement perhaps could not read or write English, much less Latin. Proof? My mom’s race on her birth certificate is “collard” as in the greens, not “colored” as she was designated. Educated-deprived white people could only assert their “superiority” by putting Black people in our place.
It is not especially startling, then, that not a single House Republican voted for the For the People Act, also known as HR1. It is more confusing that Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson (D) voted against the legislation. He had his reasons, which hold no water with me, but he had his reasons. Thompson was a cosponsor of HR1, but he flipped “in the interests of his constituents.” Is he attempting to curry favor with white Mississippi voters, or is this a vote on principle?
Here is the tension. Republicans keep talking about “voter integrity,” while Democrats and activists (not always the same thing) highlight voter suppression. The incidence of “voter fraud” is a hundredth of a percentage point, But Republicans refuse to acknowledge their voter suppression acts. Thus there are more than 200 actions in 43 states that will keep people from the polls. They don’t want our souls at the polls.
However, our voter activity has always been blocked by the conservative forces that want to limit the right to vote. They offer a “reasonable” argument. Many hit the airwaves speaking of “voter integrity” and limiting voting opportunities is “reasonable.”
These Republicans are exploiting the racist, predatory capitalist origins of this nation. While our founders talked about democracy and one person, one vote, but they excluded those who did not have property from the vote. They excluded women, Black folks and others from the vote. From my perspective, the most enduring evidence of elitism is the way the United States Senate has evolved. Initially, the governor or legislative body appointed senators, usually of their race and class. Then, the senatorial formula is intrinsically unequal. Why should population-dense California have the same voice as Vermont, New Hampshire and Montana in Senate votes? This a never meant to be a democracy. It was designed to preserve the interests of capitalist oligarchs.
The ruling class has protected their interests by giving senators a six-year term. Their missteps are likely to be forgotten before their term are over. Our former president, who should only be known as “former,” encouraged Republicans in their intransigence. The Capitol insurrection of Jan. 6 was an attempt for the unholy alliance between the wealthy Republican elites and the people they have been able to incite.
The Georgia legislation suggests that some don’t want our souls at the polls. The Republican opposition to HR1 suggests the same thing. But Black folks have learned Latin, counted jelly beans in a jar, stood in line for hours, and managed oppression. We brought the souls to the polls in 2020, and we will do it again in 2022. Nobody is “sud’in” Republican oppression.
Malveaux is an economist and author.