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The politics of voter suppression and nullification


Practical Politics

In a conversation with a group of Black teenagers a few days ago, I asked the questions, (1) What is or was the Grandfather Clause? (2) What is disenfranchisement? (3) What is apportionment?

Out of 15 youth, some high schoolers, only two correctly answered all three, while 10 of them could not answer any of them correctly. It was as if I had asked the answers to a series of complicated calculus problems.

Trying to provide some face-saving, I then asked whether any of them had heard of the Congressional Black Caucus and knew what it was. At least 2/3 of them said, yeah, they’d heard of that group, but none could tell me what the CBC was or why the group was important.

This was really, really depressing.

It’s very hard to defeat a sinister opponent (or even hold it at bay) when you can’t even estimate the danger it puts you in. The U.S. ( over 1/2 the states) is currently back to a virtual full-scale effort at suppressing the vote of Black Americans in this country. No, we might not see a large armed takeover of an elected multi-racial government as occurred in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898, but at least 25 states are in the process now of gerrymandering voting districts, increasing eligibility requirements to nullify Black voters, and other political chicanery to eliminate the participation of Black and Brown residents in choosing their elected leaders.

While some state officials argue over banning library books deemed offensive in some way, and others fight over naming campus buildings, etc., not enough attention is being paid to dispensing standard education and knowledge. How can we seriously progress when we don’t bother to learn the current political rules and roadways?

The CBC, by the way, currently has 58 members, if you count the two non-voting legislators (one from the Virgin Islands, the other from Washington, D.C.). That is a far cry from the 13 original members in 1971. Their motto is to provide full representation and participation for Black citizens in America’s national elected government. The CBC, so far, has weathered all storms and has grown to be very, very effective in the legislative corridors of power. One of its members, New York congressman Hakeem Jeffries, is slated to become the Speaker of the House, the third in line from the presidency, after the 2024 elections. That would represent a trifecta---Black congress persons elected to the top three administrative posts in the U.S. government (POTUS, VPOTUS and SOH) in spite of continuing efforts at voter suppression and denialism.

If Hip-Hop (really, Rap music) has much to celebrate in its 50 years of currency, it should at least have helped continue the legacy of Black political opposition to irrelevancy.  Some of the hit songs should have been about proper political organizing for expanded participation in U.S. politics. Black youth must be taught how to achieve the necessary skills and strategies to continue making a political difference in the U.S. and the world, else we risk becoming redundant and useless. Many who’ve come before us have already sacrificed and laid down patterns of triumph and success. We only belong here and deserve respect and dignity when we demonstrate that we are both prepared to continue the political fight and we are worth the effort.

Anything less is a betrayal of our glorious past of sacrifice and never giving up.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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