Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Day 129/365 Do we still need the Voting Rights Act?

On Monday, The Supreme Court let the Voting Rights Act of 1965 stand, for the moment. As one of the most effective civil rights laws in history the Voting Rights Act prohibits any jurisdiction from establishing "voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure ... to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color."

Without going into all the arguments being made for and against, this decision reminded me of a thought I had in 2004, while working the Kerry-Edwards campaign here in our 90% Republican county. At the time, I wondered if the Voting Rights Act could be updated, to prohibit denying or abridging the right of *any* citizen of the United States to vote.


I've worked political campaigns since I was 12. (For those keeping track- this would mean I have 42 years of political campaign work experience. Yes, I am older than dirt).

I've knocked on doors and had conversations with people that would never, ever, in a million years, vote for the candidate I was supporting. I've passed out flyers and done hours of phoning to "get out the vote". I've been stopped by passerbys who saw the buttons I wore, or honked at the bumperstickers on the car. (I learned a long time ago, people rarely stop you to agree with you).

However, all of those experiences were "up north", in a largely Democratic state. Plus I went to a "tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing, radical liberal college" and my political viewpoint was expected and pretty much encouraged.

The 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign was the first presidential campaign I worked in the deep red state of Virginia. Not only was I looking forward to getting back into politics, but I had very deep convictions against the incumbent administration. The icing on the cake was being able to take my 14-year-old daughter to work her first campaign (and have it coincide with her homeschool government class).

It was hell.

I lost most of my respect for the Republicans of my county, and whatever "American" patriotic spirit they promote.

(I will add the disclaimer that this is not a straight case of "damn yankee moves south and hates locals". Both sides of my family are from two counties over, running seven generations deep, and my great-great grandfather fought under Stonewall Jackson. So I am a "card-carrying" southerner, just the hybrid model).

In 2004, the usual campaign sign-stealing and defacing was an every day occurrence (old political trick: smear vasoline on your signs -makes them messy and difficult to pull up, plus the spray paint just wipes right off).

But the setting fire to campaign signs (while attached to private homes) was a new twist, as was the copperhead snake left in an office and the glue injected into car locks.

For those wearing candidate buttons, it was never assumed you'd be allowed to do business in a store. If the manager was a Republican, it was very likely they'd ask you to leave. Never mind the looks from other shoppers, and the actual request at one point that one would remove their political button.

I'm comfortable saying that I slept very lightly during that campaign, and that I was grateful that we had five aggressive dogs. I also refrained from door-to-door work, and kept my daughter away from it.

And from time to time I wondered if somehow I had moved to a strange country, possibly some third-world banana republic.

Fast forward to 2008.

I guess even the other side had had enough. People fell all over themselves to peel off those other bumperstickers. Where before I could hardly blink without seeing one, they became very few and far between.

People stopped staring at our Obama stickers. And more than a few came up to say how they thought he just might be the one to vote for this time, and how disappointed they were in their previous choice. I thought maybe this time, things would be different.

The day after the election in November 2008, this county was very quiet. We, of course, were delighted with the results, but the silence otherwise was deafening. While I meant to rush out and get copies of the paper, it was 2 p.m. before I got to the store. I thought they'd be sold out. Instead, the entire stack was almost untouched. I bought 5 copies, and the clerk said I was the only one who had bought a paper that day.

Then just last week, our dentist told my daughter she couldn't possibly be Christian and sane and support President Obama.

I guess I wasn't completely surprised at the comment.

And I'm not surprised neither politics nor President Obama are rarely mentioned in conversation, whereas the predecessor was invoked constantly.

And frankly, I'm not surprised that when I'm driving back, late at night after my daughter's classes, that sometimes the hair on the back of my neck stands up, when headlights appear out of nowhere. Headlights that light up our bumper with the Obama sticker. Headlights that seem to drive a little too close.

I think, in some places, we still need the Voting Rights Act. Just for a little bit longer.

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