Askia MuhammadColumnistsOp-EdOpinion

MUHAMMAD: Vote! To Stamp Out Voter Suppression

When Fannie Lou Hamer returned to her Mississippi sharecropper home after registering to vote, the trusted bookkeeper was warned that unless she went back and took her name off the voter rolls, she, her husband and 17 children would have to get out of their home and off the land.

The history doesn’t record whether she was on the Billups plantation, or on the Dockery plantation, or on the Heathman plantation; those would-be oppressors are forgotten, except in Sunflower County. We do know that Mrs. Hamer told that landowner that she had not gone to register for him, but that she had gone to register for herself, and that she would not unregister.

She was evicted and much of the world — including President Lyndon Johnson — came to know about Fannie Lou Hamer and her courageous fight for the voting rights of disenfranchised Black people in Mississippi.

Today, after Black votes once again were largely responsible for the election of a Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, and were convincing in the election of two Democrat senators from the “deep-red” state of Georgia this year, Republicans have turned to the tactic which segregationists have always used to remain in power: voter suppression, so they could maintain the façade of governing after “free and fair” elections.

Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of laws restricting voting and ballot access have been introduced in dozens of states, with GOP majorities in their legislatures. They know that in a fair fight at the polls, they will lose, so, they are resolved to maintain the governing power of white folks at all costs.

Never mind that in times of war, white folks count on “all hands on deck” — especially Blacks, Latinos and the poor — for the military mobilization. Never mind that when floods, hurricanes or other natural disasters strike, Blacks suffer right alongside everyone else. The coronavirus punished Black and poor people just like everyone else. But when it comes to the fruits of the society, white folks just aren’t at all neighborly, not by a long shot.

The racism shines through everything. Black voters are not to be trusted by whites in power to vote for the right candidates or causes. The racism, the inequality, the denial of Black wishes and aspirations is far greater than the notion of freedom and justice for all.

That’s the bad news about voting.

The good news is that so far, they have not outlawed voting altogether. They made it harder, but not impossible and just like in the case of Fannie Lou Hamer, Black people must endure sacrifices in order to get the justice at the ballot box which they deserve. Just like when escaping from slavery behind the leadership of Harriet Tubman, it’s hard. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the sacrifice, isn’t it?

The just-concluded NFL draft found potential candidates hosting watch parties, in their homes, even in a homeless shelter, even those chosen in the very late rounds, after hundreds had been chosen before them. When they were chosen, the athletes and their family members jumped for joy. Can the selection of an individual to play on a sports team be more important than the electoral liberation of a people who have been oppressed for centuries?

The same routine goes for “American Idol” and similar contests. We celebrate the good fortune of a few individuals as if we’d all been delivered over the River Jordan.

I am convinced that if “freedom” and “democracy” mean anything at all to the Black leaders who are so concerned about overcoming Repugnikkkan voter suppression measures ahead of the upcoming election cycle, then they must organize, organize, organize and strategize, strategize, strategize, and make no excuses to make sure that Black voter turnout is massive in 2022 and 2024, otherwise they should stop complaining.

The voting restrictions which are being enacted are just as onerous for white voters as they are for Black voters, so Blacks — who with each passing day are increasing their plurality compared to whites — have to demonstrate that they want that freedom promised by the Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the flawed Constitution, more than white politicians want to keep their knees on their necks.

Vote! Because if white folks can cheat Black voters out of their franchise, they will. Everybody knows that. So the only question that remains is, will Black folks let them do it?

There is an ancient Chinese proverb which is apropos here: “If the tiger eats you, he should.” The only question is whether or not Black leaders and athletes and entertainers and preachers are going to sit by and watch their people be robbed at the ballot box, or are they going to rouse their people to go all-out for freedom, like their lives depend on their vote.

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Askia Muhammad

WPFW News Director Askia Muhammad is also a poet, and a photojournalist. He is Senior Editor for The Final Call newspaper and he writes a weekly column in The Washington Informer.

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