WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is waging war on democracy. That was the message from speakers at a Nov. 22-23 conference on voting rights here. To protect ballot rights and other democratic freedoms, many participants said, it is vital to remove Bush from office in the 2004 elections.

The conference, titled “Claim Democracy: Securing, Enhancing, and Exercising the Power of the Right to Vote,” was sponsored by 60 national organizations including the Center for Voting and Democracy, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, National Organization for Women, Common Cause, and the League of Women Voters.

The immediacy of the danger was brought home by Craig Holman, legislative representative of Public Citizen. He noted that two days earlier, House Administration Committee chair Robert Ney (R-Ohio) threatened to subpoena leaders of the AFL-CIO-backed Voices for Working Families, Partnership for America’s Families, America Coming Together, America Votes, and the Democratic Senate Majority Fund. All six groups refused to testify voluntarily at a congressional hearing they denounced as a witch-hunt.

Republicans have no objections to Bush raising $200 million to buy a second term, but they go ballistic when pro-labor organizations scrape together a fraction of Bush’s war chest to oppose the Republican right, Holman said.

“This has all the earmarks of an inquisition,” he said. “It is really very intimidating.”

The backdrop for the conference was the Bush-Cheney theft of the 2000 election when tens of thousands of votes were stolen through purging of mostly African American and Latino voters from election rolls and the Supreme Court’s termination of the vote count in Florida.

Ron Daniels, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told the crowd the CCR has launched an internet petition to Congress demanding that Attorney General John Ashcroft be removed as the main culprit in the war on democracy. “We really need a regime change in 2004,” Daniels said. “You can debate about differences between the Democrats and the Republicans but there are moments in history that are so extraordinarily important, we have to do what is tactically necessary. … The differences are incremental but they are not inconsequential. They matter in people’s lives. … We have to help people become part of a movement to rescue democracy.”

Rep. Garnet Coleman, a member of the Texas State Legislature, drew a strong ovation as he described how he and 51 colleagues fled to Ardmore, Okla., last spring to block House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s off-year redistricting scam to add eight Republicans to his House majority in Washington. “What became clear was that this was a coup,” Coleman charged. “They sent Homeland Security after us. DeLay was using the people’s house, the people’s legislature, to take away our representation.” DeLay ultimately succeeded, but Coleman told the World that Black and Hispanic legislators are challenging the new districts as a brazen violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Many of the sponsoring groups advocate a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote, public financing of elections, instant runoffs, proportional representation, and Election Day registration. None of these will see the light of day as long as the ultra-right GOP controls all three branches of government.

Greg Moore, executive director of the NAACP National Voter Fund, said, “We will be focusing a tremendous amount of our effort to get out the vote in 2004. We have no intention of letting the 2000 election happen again.”

Project Vote, a group affiliated with ACORN, is demanding that state officials vigorously implement the “Motor Voter” law that permits motorists to register to vote when they renew their drivers licenses, said Joanne Breen Wright, deputy director of the group.

National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy said, “Wal-Mart waged a war against overtime (which they won when opposition in Congress collapsed). … Clear Channel has taken over our airwaves. And in the name of patriotism, we are losing the last vestiges of democracy.” The struggle to regain political clout, she said, “begins where it has to begin: At the ballot box.”

NOW views the “March for Women’s Lives” in Washington next April 25 as an important mobilizer for the election campaign, Gandy told the World. “We intend to make sure there is a lot of activism coming out of that march – that people are inspired to get involved in the 2004 elections.”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com.