On News One Now with Roland Martin, Dr. Jason Johnson discusses the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement at the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Leadership Conference.
Congressional Black Caucus
The 50th anniversary march in Selma Alabama was a wonderful montage of where racial politics and justice in America are in the early part of the 21st century.
Everywhere you turned there were stark contrasts: the politicians and old guard on Saturday, the activists on Sunday, thousands of visitors spending money on trinkets and souvenirs while the neighborhood around the Edmund Pettus Bridge is destitute, the mixed crowd by the local police and firemen segregated, the visuals were interesting.
President Obama is being rightly praised by members of Congress, pundits and activists for his speech on the steps of the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Saturday. He passionately pointed out that progress has been made in race relations in America, and to cynically suggest that “nothing’s changed” in 50 years is to deny the progress of women CEO’s, Latinos, African Americans and the LGBT community. Moreover, he pointed out that what happened in Ferguson wasn’t isolated but nor was it endemic (a point that many have taken issue with).
However, to bolster this point, President Obama pointed out that what the Ferguson Police Department has been doing is no longer LEGAL which was not the case 50 years ago, yet another sign of progress. This is president Obama, the man who believes in the constitution (when it comes to civil rights, not press freedom), who will use the power of the government to go after institutions that violate the rights of people based on race, color, creed or sexuality.
This is a president that even most cynical African Americans can get behind, especially when he’s channeling Martin Luther King Jr. with a backdrop of one of the most significant places in the history of American Civil Rights.
But then again, he is also the same President who spoke to Benedict College in South Carolina on Friday.
President Obama spoke to a group of students at Benedict College last Friday and provided that contrast to his personality and philosophy on race that infuriates and disappoints many in the African American community. It was a Cosby-esque cavalcade of respectability politics. The president chastised the students to work harder, show more responsibility and handle their business. Comments that are not in and of themselves problematic, but ones that he seems to only throw out when talking to African American audiences.
If Obama had delivered his Selma speech to the students at Benedict it would be amazing, and had he delivered his Benedict speech in front of the Congressional Black Caucus and the dignitaries on Saturday they’d have wanted to boo him off stage.
In other words, for all of the grace and pageantry of his words on Saturday the president remains incredibly situational about his Civil Rights passion, which is in stark contrast to the men and women he came to honor that day.
True commitment to civil rights requires speaking the same painful truths to crowds of the powerful and weak, to the committed and the disinterested to the converted and those full of contempt. Despite his impressive speech on Saturday President Obama still does not seem to have that level of strength or candor within him.
But despite his ambivalence or disinterest he is in the position to make those speeches because of men and women who weren’t willing to shy away from the layered influence of institutional racism 50 years ago.
This article originally appeared online at NBC BLK.
On News One Now with Roland Martin, Hiram College professor Jason Johnson discusses the #BlackLivesMatter protests surrounding the deaths of Eric Garner and Mike Brown with Collette Flanagan, founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality, journalist Lauren Victoria Burke of Crew of 42, and journalist Ray Baker.
While on the ground in Ferguson, Missouri following the failure to indict Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Mike Brown, Hiram College professor Jason Johnson was quoted by the International Business Times in the article “Ferguson Riots Underscore Lack of Modern Day Black Leadership.”
For Jason Johnson, a professor of political science at Hiram College, the actions of protesters in Ferguson have been spurred not by calls from local leaders but by a lack of guidance from within the city.
“That is endemic of what is going on in Ferguson,” Johnson told International Business Times. “The reason you have 50 million people showing up here…is because there is a vacuum of indigenous African-American leadership. Even the people who you see out protesting, most of those leaders are coming up from St. Louis, they’re coming in from other locations.”
Johnson pointed to Rep. Lacy Clay, the Democrat who represents Ferguson in the U.S. House of Representatives, as one example of absent leadership in the city. He is not-so-affectionately known as “Lazy” Clay in the area, a resident of nearby Florissant told IBTimes.
Click here to read “Ferguson Riots Underscore Lack of Modern Day Black Leadership.”
There are plenty of clichéd metaphors we apply to elections and warfare.
Getting out the vote is the “ground war,” hotly contested states are “battleground states” and any campaign commercial in which candidates aren’t hugging each other is an “attack ad.”
And there’s another cliché to add to the mix that’s never been more apparent than in this year’s midterm elections: With control of the U.S. Senate within the grasp of Republicans for the first time in almost a decade, the “cold war” of voting has suddenly gone “hot.” And if you look across the nation, African Americans are the most likely to get burned.
A cold war is a passive-aggressive war. For years the United States and the Soviet Union fought each other indirectly, through proxy wars in Africa, South America and Asia, through rock-and-roll songs and the Olympics. Eventually President Ronald Reagan just called Russia the evil empire and things went hot in the 1980s.
Likewise, the war on voting—or, perhaps more precisely, the war on black voting—had been cold for years, and the blatantly racist chants of politicians seeking to suppress black votes had given way to subtleties like racial gerrymandering by Republican and Democratic incumbents, voting-machine fraud and paying off pastors on Sundays. No one came out and said, “We have to stop blacks from voting,” but all that changed once President Barack Obama was elected twice by a coalition of voters no one had ever seen before. Young people, Asian Americans, Latinos and African Americans turning out at higher rates than any other racial group in the country scared the hell out of Republicans who feared a stable voting bloc that might turn blue states indigo and red states purple.
After 2012, suddenly the GOP was concerned about “voter fraud,” and swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida passed laws intended to suppress the vote. In the last month alone, backed by a right-leaning Supreme Court, early voting has been curtailed in Ohio and onerous voter-identification laws have been upheld in Wisconsin. But nowhere has the war on voting been more apparent than in the state of Georgia.
Making John Lewis Angry
In September, Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp launched an investigation directed at a nonpartisan voter-registration organization, the New Georgia Project, and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), speaking at an Atlanta press conference on Monday, knew exactly why. “There is a systematic and deliberate attempt on the part of some states,” Lewis charged, “to limit the vote of minorities, seniors and young people. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona … it violates the spirit of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.”
Georgia’s growing African-American and Latino populations, along with an influx of young people from the Northeast, has turned it into a “trending purple” state in Democratic circles. Obama got more votes in Georgia in 2008 and 2012 than President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore or former Sen. John Kerry did when they ran for president.
Encouraged by these trends, Democrats have fielded a record five African-American female candidates for statewide office. In addition, the governor’s race between Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter, and the Senate race between Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue, have been neck and neck all summer. A historic win in any of these races puts Georgia within Democrats’ sights for 2016.
With so much at stake, the forces of voting oppression had to get busy to cover their Southern flank. The New Georgia Project registered more than 85,000 new voters and submitted the applications to the Georgia secretary of state’s office in April 2014 in time for the May primaries, but none of those voting applications were processed in time for the primaries. And with early voting starting in a week, more than 40,000 registrations still have not been processed.
After months of the New Georgia Project asking for an explanation for the delays, Kemp responded in September—by slapping them with an injunction based on 25 “fraudulent” applications his office found. It doesn’t take a voting-war vet like Lewis to figure this out. Georgia Republicans got blindsided by 85,000 new Democratic registrations in a midterm year, and now the secretary of state is playing Bull Connor to stop them from voting.
Republicans are “just scared because they just found out we quietly registered 100,000 single women, blacks, Asians and Latinos right under their noses and they didn’t see it coming. Now they’re throwing the book at us at the last minute,” says a voting-rights activist who asked to remain nameless. It’s hardly a far-fetched conclusion.
Losing Battles and Losing Wars
It would be great to end on an optimistic note about the tide of war on voting, but the reality is that the forces of voter suppression and disenfranchisement are winning. Last-minute voter-ID laws in Ohio, Wisconsin and other states won’t be legally changed in time for November elections. That means more Republican statehouses and, likely, a Republican-controlled U.S. Senate during President Obama’s last two years in office.
If there’s any good news, it’s that, in the long term, this is a losing strategy for Republicans that will backfire in 2016. It’s easy to discriminate against poor people, blacks and college kids and get away with it. But when a wave of middle-class, swing-voting white women want to vote two weeks early for Hillary Clinton, voting restrictions will be a much harder sell for the public.
For now, the only way to counter the war on voters is to go out and vote—against elected officials who seek to restrict early voting and against elected officials who target students, minorities and seniors. This fall, regardless of your party affiliation, if you are eligible to vote, you’re a target in this war, and the best way not to end up a casualty is to go into the booth and pull the lever.
This article originally appeared at TheRoot.com.