By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Most of the attention that has been focused on the upcoming 2012 election revolves around who the Republican nominee will be and whether he/she can defeat President Obama. That is not what I want to address in this commentary.
It seems fairly apparent that there is a Republican plan afoot to, not only win the 2012 elections (at a minimum at the presidential level), but to do so at all costs, including through electoral theft. You do not have to be a meteorologist to feel the storm coming in. In Republican-controlled state legislatures there have been a rash of bills passed that make it more difficult for people to vote. There is a range of content but it all equals the same thing: ensure that any section of the electorate that is potentially pro-Democratic is restricted electorally.
The approach taken by the Republicans is couched in suggestions of a need to stamp out voter fraud. Yet there are few, if any, facts that are offered to document a real threat of alleged voter fraud. In fact, objective studies have shown that voter fraud is essentially a non-issue. Yet the facts do not stand in the way of the Republican fear campaign. Instead, laws have been passed that further restrict the right of ex-felons to vote; shorten the period of time for early voting; and increase the documentation needed to prove that one is an eligible voter (except in some states where someone can use a gun permit to prove their eligibility but not their student identification!).
It is important to link these efforts at voter suppression with Republican-backed campaigns to alter the U.S. Constitution in addressing who is eligible for citizenship. Certain anti-immigrant groups have offered proposals that challenge the very notion that being born in the USA should any longer be acceptable as criteria for citizenship. Should such efforts succeed they would immediately be used against African Americans, and for that matter anyone, who might not be able to “prove” their place of birth, thereby potentially disenfranchising broad sections of the population.
This process is very reminiscent of the successful efforts at voter suppression and disenfranchisement that accompanied the rise of Jim Crow Segregation in the Southern USA at the turn of the 20th century. The aim of the rich, white elite in the South was to guarantee their continued dominance of the South and in order to do so they had to destroy the ability of the poor to join hands in their fight for power. Using the language of white supremacy, as well as coded words, such as “literacy” and “qualifications,” the white supremacists not only disenfranchised millions of African American voters, but as well much of the white poor, thereby stabilizing an undemocratic, criminal system.
Preparing for 2012 should not be solely about preparing to support this or that candidate, but also preparing to fight any and all forms of voter suppression. We will need to dramatically increase voter registration; we will need to challenge, legally and in the streets, these Republican antidemocratic election laws; and we will need to be prepared on Election Day 2012 to be in the streets if there is another non-violent electoral coup as we experienced in November 2000.
In November 2000 too many of us were unprepared for the audacity of the Bush campaign in seizing power. We will have no excuse the next time.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the co-author of “Solidarity Divided.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.