The African American people from slavery to today have had to wage a hard, bitter and bloody struggle for the right to vote. The right to vote, therefore, is sacred; it is a basic part of achieving full democracy, including equality for all.
Eighty-three percent of Black registered voters told CBS/BET they would definitely vote this year. That is up from the record 71 percent Black turnout in 2000. It would be a decisive factor in the defeat of George W. Bush and the ultra-right Republicans on Nov. 2.
The Republican Party and the right wing are waging a well-financed campaign to weaken and destroy the impact of the African American vote. This campaign is in direct violation of the Voting Rights Act (1965) and the principle of one person, one vote. It is one of the clearest examples of the racist nature of the Bush administration.
With all of their demagogic talk of a color-blind society, the Bush administration has been totally racist and color conscious. They are attacking the whole idea of universal suffrage and a multiracial democracy.
A racist conspiracy to suppress the Black vote, carried out in the name of fighting voter fraud, was the key to the Bush-Cheney campaign’s theft of the 2000 election. It happened not only in Florida but also around the country.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris hired Database Technologies (DBT) of Boca Raton to purge at least 90,000 people from the state’s voter rolls, falsely identifying them as “convicted felons.” DBT was paid more than $1 million in taxpayer money to carry out this operation, in flagrant violation of the Voting Rights Act. Of those removed, 80 percent were not felons.
State police roadblocks prevented mainly Black voters from getting to the polls. At the polls, additional pieces of photo identification were demanded of Black voters. Leaflets were distributed with the wrong date for Election Day, and with warnings that people with outstanding parking tickets or tax problems might get in trouble if they voted. Problem voting machines were concentrated in the Black and Democratic districts.
They are doing it again
The Bush camp has apparently concluded that it cannot win in 2004 without resorting to those same tactics. The NAACP and People for the American Way (PFAW) have released an excellent report, “The Long Shadow of Jim Crow: Voter Intimidation and Suppression in America Today.” It documents the Republican’s racist, vote-stealing conspiracy for the upcoming Nov. 2 election.
The report concludes, “With widespread predictions of a close national election and an unprecedented wave of new voter registration, unscrupulous political operatives will look for any advantage, including suppression and intimidation efforts. As in the past, minority voters and low-income populations will be the most likely targets of dirty tricks at the polls.”
The report cites the new voter purge list sent out by Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood seeking to remove tens of thousands of “potential felons” from voting rolls. It is reminiscent of the purging of Black voters in 2000. An angry outcry forced Gov. Jeb Bush to rescind the list. Yet that list is still in the hands of Florida’s 67 county election supervisors. Armed plainclothesmen visited elderly Black voters in Orlando this spring in a similar effort to suppress and intimidate Black voters.
The Bush attack, 2004
The Bush campaign has calculated that if they can increase the Black vote for the Republicans by 1 or 2 percent, or decrease the Black vote for the Democrats by a comparable margin, they will succeed in their drive for a second term.
They are out to intimidate and are even prepared to use violence. In the Philadelphia mayoral race in 2003, the NAACP-PFAW report states, over 300 sedans with magnetic signs designed to look like law enforcement insignia, full of mysterious uniformed men carrying clipboards, invaded the Black community — approaching voters and challenging their right to vote.
At the same time, the FBI, under Attorney General John Ashcroft’s command, planted a bug in Mayor John Street’s office. When Street’s staff discovered the bug, Philadelphians recoiled in outrage. They understood that it was a GOP dirty trick aimed at planting a Republican as mayor of Pennsylvania’s largest city, key to Bush-Cheney hopes of capturing Pennsylvania’s big bloc of electoral college votes in the 2004 election.
This attempt to steal Pennsylvania for Bush-Cheney backfired badly. Street was re-elected in a landslide. But the incident also exposed the Republican’s win-at-any- cost use of racism and intimidation.
There are reports that Vice President Dick Cheney has set aside $750,000 to hire professional thugs from the Vance International to go into voting places in working-class and nonwhite neighborhoods this November. Fortunately a lot of voters are aware of what happened in 2000 and are determined that it not happen again.
In all major areas of life — employment, poverty, incarceration rates, education, homelessness and hunger — things have gotten much worse for African Americans since Bush took office.
Black Americans still suffer from double-digit unemployment and poverty figures. Recent reports show an astounding 50 percent of African American males in New York City are unemployed. Racial profiling is rampant especially after 9/11, and half of all males incarcerated in the U.S. are Black. Higher rates of poverty and lower opportunities for decent education and jobs are forcing disproportionate numbers of African American youth into the military.
That is why the Bush administration has almost no support among African Americans.
There is a fightback
On July 16, Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) was one of several Black and white lawmakers who spoke on the House floor in favor of the United Nations monitoring our Nov. 2 elections. She pointed out that in her district in the 2000 election, 27,000 ballots of her mostly African Americans constituents were thrown out. She boldly charged that the Bush-Cheney campaign stole the election and that members of the Republican House leadership were accomplices in a criminal coup d’etat. The Republicans struck her words from the record, censured her and passed a resolution forbidding UN election monitoring in the U.S.
Rep. Brown was carrying on Fannie Lou Hamer’s noble fight for democracy. Hamer, another southern Black woman, was jailed and brutally beaten by the local KKK-infected state police 41 years ago because she was fighting for the right to vote. The dominant southern Dixiecrat Democratic Party knew if Black voters gained the franchise their racist rule would come to an end. They feared Black voters and set up a legal structure and a brutal system to prevent them from voting. They used violence and intimidation and murder to stop their vote. Hamer helped form the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which was an integrated party. As more civil rights victories were won in the South, the old Dixiecrats shifted en masse to the Republican Party.
Members of the Republican majority of the U.S. Congress today are the misbegotten offspring of the Mississippi state troopers, who brutally beat Hamer, and the killers of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner in 1964.
This is the kind of “democracy” and “open debate” the Republican majority in the Congress believes in.
How to meet the challenge
All across the country, tens of thousands of volunteers from the labor movement, youth and student groups, women’s and senior groups are registering and educating voters about what is at stake in this election.
The atmosphere is like Mississippi Freedom Summer (1964), when hundreds of mainly young volunteers headed to Mississippi to register voters. This time it’s all over the country, with the hope that tens of thousands of new anti-Bush voters will come to the polls on Nov. 2.
The major civil rights organizations are registering millions of voters in the Black and Latino communities. As Julian Bond, chairman of NAACP, put it at its recent convention: Any chapter that is not involved in voter registration should turn in its charter.
Ron Walters, writing in The Crisis (July/August 04), points out that if the unregistered Black voters were registered and came to the polls in Florida, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Tennessee, and Arkansas, all states that Bush won in 2000, he would be defeated.
Groups like Rock the Vote, MoveOn.org, the Black Radical Congress, the hip hop community, the AFL-CIO, Coalition of Labor Union Women, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists are registering and educating voters across the country, especially in the battleground states.
The Communist Party USA and the Young Communist League are also sending teams into the battleground states. From their actions it is clear that there is a widespread understanding that democracy itself is at stake in this election.
This effort is planting the seeds for a new political independence in the country. Maximizing the voter rolls among working families and racially oppressed people will strengthen the number of independent progressive voters, and the struggle for peace, jobs and equality beyond this election.
This racist conspiracy can be defeated
Two years ago, Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), an African American and one of the most consistent fighters against the Bush agenda, was a victim of the administration’s attempt to silence outspoken African American elected officials. Thousands of Republican voters crossed over and defeated her in Georgia’s Democratic Primary.
McKinney was undaunted. This July she came back to win the Democratic primary, tantamount to re-election in her overwhelmingly Democratic district. This victory shows that with struggle, the racist conspiracy can be defeated.
At the Democratic National Convention, Rev. Al Sharpton said of the Republicans, “They promised us 40 acres and a mule. We waited and nothing happened. The fact of the matter is, Mr. Bush, we waited around with the Republican Party through Herbert Hoover. Still didn’t get the 40 acres. Didn’t even get the mule. So we decided we’d ride this (Democratic) donkey as far as it would take us.”
This is a good summary of the history of the African American people’s relationship to the two major parties. Black people have a history of supporting political parties to the extent that those parties have supported their fight for freedom. Black voters have at times used independent parties as well to advance the cause. Throughout history the cause has always been more important then the party or candidate.
On Election Day
The Election Protection Coalition, initiated by the NAACP and PFAW, is asking for 25,000 volunteers and 5,000 lawyers to monitor every polling place with heavy minority voting populations Nov. 2. They have set up a hot line number: 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683). Black, Latino or Native American Indian voters who face any attempts to deny them their right to cast their ballot can call that number for immediate assistance.
To guarantee the defeat of the GOP’s racist conspiracy, volunteers are needed at polling places, especially in African American and Latino areas, to answer questions, handle complaints and challenge provocations and illegal actions by state officials. The key is to be vigilant with a spirit of struggle.
The disenfranchisement of Black voters threatens the democratic process for all Americans. Bush stole the 2000 election largely due to the suppressing of the Black vote and he took the nation to war and set back the democratic rights of the vast majority of the U.S. people. All those who believe in democracy and justice have a stake in this struggle.
Progressive-minded voters should plan to take Election Day off, if possible, and join in the growing grassroots movement to make sure that every vote is counted.
Jarvis Tyner is executive vice chair of the Communist Party USA.
He can be reached at email@example.com.
Tim Wheeler contributed to this article.