As a group, black people have experienced two hundred years of enslavement and its impact on millions of families has been devastating. America engaged in a civil war that cost hundreds of thousands of lives as the south threatened secession just to maintain its horrific deeds on black humanity. State sponsored racism is replete throughout our history and the winds of change in ameliorating its pervasiveness has only occurred through many years of black resistance, action and other groups of people fighting for change.
For all of the progress made through relentless activism and sacrifice, what is going on right now in the state of Alabama as it relates to aims in restricting the black vote, is a reminder that progress is conditional and we must never get comfortable. Raw Story’s David Edwards reported the following:
The state of Alabama, which requires a photo ID to vote, announced this week that it would stop issuing driver’s licenses in counties where 75 percent of registered voters are black.
Mr. Edwards went on to report:
Due to budget cuts, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said that 31 satellite DMVoffices would no longer have access to driver’s licenses examiners, meaning that residents will need to travel to other counties to apply for licenses. The move comes just one year after the state’s voter photo ID law went into effect.
What makes these actions so alarmingly racist is the double edged attack on reducing the black vote in Alabama. As Mr. Edwards noted, Alabama enacted a restrictive voter ID law in 2014. Now, with the closures of DMV’s that were previously within walking -- or convenient vehicular travel distance, the onus is on people to make special arrangements just to exercise the right to vote. As a result, turnout will most likely suffer in future elections.
True to racist form, Alabama’s highest ranking politicians attempted to portray their actions as innocuously coincidental, justifiable, and placing blame onto others. Tierney Sneed from Talking Points Memo, obtained a copy from Al.com's description of the recording that took place with Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) with a GOP steering committee:
They are wrong on this issue," said Bentley. "Everyone can get a license and everyone can get a voter ID. They (critics) really don't have anything to talk about. It's politics at its worst. And it's race politics at its worst.
Bentley told the group that he had worked hard to help change the image of the state.
Alabama is not George Wallace's state. I don't want it to be George Wallace's state." said Bentley. "I want us to be inclusive. I don't want us to look at the color of people's skin. I don't want us to look at whether they are male or female. We are all Alabamians and I'm their governor. I know most of them (blacks in the affected counties losing driver's license offices) are not going to vote Republican. But you are not going to win people over by not being inclusive.
The Atlanta Black Star reported Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, a Republican, denied the closures were designed to disenfranchise Black voters and stated the following:
The criticism is strictly a liberal attempt from people who are not from here, and don’t understand what’s going on with our people or our budget situation, they’re trying to use that to bring attention to our state in a negative light,” said Merrill, Alabama’s top elections official, in an interview with Talking Points Memo. “We’re doing everything we can and we are continuing to do everything we can to ensure that everyone in our state has the opportunity to do that, according to the law.
The racist actions of Republican governor Bentley and Secretary of State Merrill are in the spirit of George Wallace – just without the firehoses, bull horns and dogs maliciously attacking black people. And their assertions don’t hold up against troubling statistics.
Ari Berman in his article for The Nation, indicated only 41 percent of Alabamans voted in the 2014 election, the lowest turnout in 28 years. The Center for American progress published a fascinating report that indicated Alabama ranked last in voter access. The report indicated approximately 250,000 to 500,000 registered Alabama residents do not have a driver’s license or acceptable photo ID. A large percent are black. The report also indicated there has been a 9.6 percent increase in the Black population in Alabama from 2000 to 2010. A figure not lost in Alabama state politics.
The multilayered attempts by racist politicians in Alabama to suppress the black vote is so blatant, it is challenging the will of Alabamans and this nation to fight back against injustice. These Republican politicians are hoping their sustained efforts at black disempowerment can overcome temporary outrage by Alabamans and the press. Their vision has been clearly laid out for all to see.
It’s up to us to alter it.