Since 1976, the National Urban League has issued a report on the State of Black America. It has become a national touchstone for the social and economic status of the nation’s African-American and minority communities.
Each year we are asked, “What is the state of Black America?” And the answer this year is, quite starkly, “under attack.”
The right to a quality education is under attack. The opportunity for economic equality is under attack. And most important and most urgent, the right to vote is under attack.
In 1890, African-Americans were denied their Constitutional right to vote through poll taxes, literacy tests and arbitrary comprehension tests. In my home state of Louisiana, by 1910 only 750 African-American men were registered to vote – less than one half of one percent of eligible Black men. When my mother registered to vote in Louisiana in the 1950s, she was told she was ineligible to vote because she claimed her eyes were brown, and the clerk insisted they were Black.
The modern voter suppression laws are no less discriminatory. As many as five million Americans could be denied their Constitutional right to vote in 2012 and they are overwhelmingly poor, racial minorities, senior citizens and college students.
More than one in ten Americans, and one in four people of color, do not have the type of identification required by the new laws.
In Texas, student IDs are not an acceptable proof of the right to vote, but concealed-carry gun permits are.
Politicians have been very clear about their desire to suppress the vote.
A consultant to Maryland gubernatorial candidate Bob Erlich wrote in a memo, "The first and most desired outcome is voter suppression." The goal was to have "African-American voters stay home" on Election Day in November 2010 and to "promote confusion, emotionalism and frustration among African-American Democrats."
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, campaigning in 2010, said, "We want to make sure they don't get 50 percent [voter turnout]. Keep that down." He was speaking specifically about Philadelphia, where 59 percent of the population is nonwhite.
Michigan state legislator John Pappageorge said in recent years, "If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we're going to have a tough time in this election." Detroit’s population is nearly 83 percent African-American, and more than 32 percent of Detroit’s families live below the poverty line.
The citizens who are most affected by the reckless elimination of education and economic development initiatives are the very same citizens whose right to vote is threatened.
That's why we're fighting back with a new campaign called Occupy the Vote. On our social mobilization platform, IAmEmpowered.com, you'll find information about voting laws in your state, links to voter registration, all the latest news about voting rights and how you can join the fight to defend democracy. We cannot stand by while our hard-fought Constitutional rights are decimated so that short-sighted politicians can recklessly destroy the educational and economic development initiatives needed to rebuild our economy.
And we must protect those initiatives at all costs. Education and job training are our only hope for achieving economic and social equality.
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(Photo: Xinhua /Landov)