Sunday, March 30, 2014

Moving Backwards (March 30, 2014)

Guest blogger Wendy on the slow rollback of hard won progress…
We're moving backwards, folks.  It's a slow chipping away, not an avalanche, so you may not be noticing, but we're moving backwards.  The rights won with blood and guts in the 60s and 70s, rights our children take for granted, are eroding, and we need to speak up.
Yesterday, Tom and I saw the play “All the Way,” a tour de force starring Bryan Cranston (see it if you can) about how LBJ rammed through passage of the Civil Rights Act following JFK's death.  A year later, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed.  And this morning, in 2014, this article appeared on the front page of The New York Times:
If you don't have time to read it, the gist is that since the Supreme Court reversed a pivotal requirement (Section 4) of the Voting Rights Act last June, nine states have passed laws which disenfranchise voters. Quoting from the article,
Most have to do with voter ID laws. Other states are considering mandating proof of citizenship, like a birth certificate or a passport, after a federal court judge recently upheld such laws passed in Arizona and Kansas. Because many poor people do not have either and because documents can take time and money to obtain, Democrats say the ruling makes it far more difficult for people to register.
Anyone reading this post is likely to take his birth certificate for granted.  What’s the big deal?  Your mother saved it for you in her neat file in the bottom drawer along with your passport and a lock of hair from your first trim.  Not the case for everyone.  Tom and I have some experience in trying to obtain a Florida birth certificate for a young man who we mentor.  It was a frustrating and protracted process – by design – an endless loop of “you need ID to get your ID,” you need to know your parents’ names (and guess what, not everyone does) and, of course, you need money.  When you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, negotiating this morass falls to the bottom of the to-do list and there goes your vote.
This should outrage you.  As should gerrymandering, the other form of disenfranchisement.   According to a February 2013 NY Times articles, "In the 2012 election, seven states had a severe imbalance between their popular vote and the party makeup of their House delegations; three others had moderate imbalances."  These imbalances were the result of gerrymandering following the 2010 census and they'll be with us until at least 2020.  The seven states include one red state that is actually gerrymandered to the advantage of Democrats (Arizona) and six that benefit Republicans in Congressional elections (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida).  You may not know this, but even though Republicans control the House, 233-202, Democrats received more votes in aggregate across the United States, 55.7 million to 54.8 million.  Disenfranchisement, pure and simple. 
So that was this morning's newspaper.  Earlier this week, the Supreme Court heard  arguments in Sebelius v Hobby Lobby Stores , a case which tested the legality of  the Affordable Health Care Act requirement to include free contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance plans.  The judges are teetering, 4 to 4, with the fate in Justice Kennedy's hands (yet again).  Of course, mandatory health care coverage for contraception does not date back to the 70s, but it was only 40 years ago or so that large numbers of women began to enter law schools, business schools and other graduate programs which in turn led to women in Congressional offices and board rooms, to the front of the classroom in universities, not in the numbers that we'd ultimately like to see, but progress to be sure.  To me, it's clear that a woman's ability to shape her work life and her home life is inextricably intertwined with her ability to control her reproductive life. When we chip away at reproductive rights, we silently chip away at all that we have gained. 
For those who aren't political junkies, and I count myself among you, it's tempting to sit back and take a rest from Washington until the next presidential election, but we do so at our peril.  This past week's headlines alone are proof positive of that.


On Sunday, March 30, in response to a New York Times article, I wrote about the attack on the right to vote that's being waged in nine states (above). This attack is a direct result of last June's  Supreme Court decision to reverse the  Voting Rights Act provision requiring  federal review of changes in voting requirements in  states which have an historical record of voter discrimination.  On Wednesday, April 2, in a 5-4 decision brought to you by the Court responsible for Citizens United,  we saw the elimination of a long-standing cap on individual contributions to federal candidates.  In the decision, our Chief Justice wrote, "There is no right in our democracy more basic than the right to participate in election our political leaders."  Agreed.  Absolutely.   But we've got a problem here.  We're supposed to elect them, not buy them.  We live in a nation where  citizens -- face it, poor citizens -- can be denied their right to vote simply because they don't have the cash to pay for an ID.  But God help us, we will not deny the wealthy their right to buy their leaders.  The hypocrisy is shameful -- and pretty darn transparent.  

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