A resident of Mississippi once told me that when it comes to his state, everything is about race. He described how his efforts toward voter engagement and turnout were often met with a sense of hopelessness. He talked about Blacks who had given up by concluding there was no need to vote because it didn’t make a difference. He described people who had reached the breaking point. I realized the broad implications and consequences behind his point.
The generational curses and suffering due to race are far worse in Mississippi than in states like Virginia or Maryland, also former slave states. Black people have always been people of hope despite the obstacles placed before us. Therefore, how a person responds to racial barriers will depend heavily upon the amount of hope, trust and expectations in democracy and the democratic process. The will to fight is gone if the hope is taken away. Without hope, people will see no need to remain united and fight for what is rightfully theirs. Historically, slavery, Jim Crow and all forms of racial hatred and domestic terrorism were far worse in the Deep South. Mississippi has suffered an unfair amount of deep-seated racism resulting in current generations of Blacks having little or no hope. There will never be full American democracy until the famous words “We the People” becomes and remains all-inclusive.
When the Founders wrote the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, it read, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, ensure domestic Tranquility (peace), provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity (children and grandchildren), do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The preamble represents a powerful introduction to the highest law of the land, but society’s exclusionary actions often contradict the inclusive words of “We the People.”
As Frederick Douglass noted about the Constitution, “its language is ‘We the people,’ not ‘We the white people.” He reminds us that people of all races have the right to claim every written word in the preamble. While slaves were considered property and not whole persons (Three-Fifth Clause), incremental steps of inclusion have been made toward citizenship and the rights of citizens. Those incremental steps, such as the 13th and 14th Amendments, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act, provided hope and progress toward a perfect Union.
Today’s culture war is a continuation of centuries-old attempts to deny, take back or weaken the rights of citizens of color, which is why we will always be directly connected to our history.
Breaking the will of Black citizens and preventing their participation in the democratic process has long been a political strategy. It represents a fact that should unite instead of divide those within all segments of the Black community. I could never imagine Frederick Douglass reaching the breaking point and not caring.
The stakes are high next year with the White House, Senate, and Congress up for grabs. We must remain mindful and vigilant of the tactics and purpose behind the constant stream of voting suppression bills/laws and the anti-woke movement.
State representatives are wasting no time setting their sights on the voting patterns for the 2024 elections based on the 2022 results. The Georgia Senate Ethics Committee recently passed a version of an election bill that might violate federal law and includes a last-minute ban on absentee drop boxes. If this bill successfully passes, it represents another attempt to make it harder for people of color to exercise their voting rights as citizens.
The motive behind banning absentee drop boxes is clear; we know from history that they will never give up. They want people of color to give up. Georgia has stood tall by sending Raphael Warnock back to the U.S. Senate during last year’s election. While Stacey Abrams did not win her last election for governor of Georgia, she helped develop a political infrastructure that increased voter turnout among Black, Asian, Latino, low-income and youth voters. It is an infrastructure holding the line with record turnouts even with the voting obstacles.
Can the success in Georgia ever be duplicated in Mississippi, which has a higher percentage of Black residents than Georgia? Georgia is approximately 33% Black, compared to 38% in Mississippi.
If Mississippi had a Georgia-type political infrastructure and a strong hope in the democratic process, Mike Espy would be in the U.S. Senate today. Espy’s opponent was not only the Republican candidate Cindy Hyde-Smith but generations of deep-seated racial hate that caused people to lose hope. Georgia has provided Mississippi and other states with a winning blueprint. Unfortunately, the blueprint will not work until enough people accept that “We the People” applies to them and are willing to fight nonstop for the rights that belong to them.
Marshall is the founder of the faith-based organization TRB: The Reconciled Body and author of the book “God Bless Our Divided America.”