Organizing for the Right Rights
By Greg Coleridge
The August 24 Washington, DC rally marking the 50th Anniversary of the historic 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom featured literally dozens of speakers in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The themes of their reflections varied considerably.
Some speakers focused on looking back at the champions of the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, while others focused on those who are presently engaged in the struggle.
Some reflected on dreams and visions, others on cold hard facts and realities.
Some spoke about threats to civil rights and civil liberties, others commented on the threats to labor rights and to meeting basic economic needs.
And some celebrated the political and economic achievements, in particular of African Americans, over the last half-century, while others reminded us that in many respects economic conditions for African American are worse today. In other words, some addressed how far the movement has come, others how far we still must go.
Despite differing messages from different messengers, there was unanimity on many points by those who specifically referenced the horrific June 25 Supreme Court 5-4 decision gutting a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.
- The Supremes blew it.
- The 5 “robed ones” on the High Court who voted to scrap Section 4 of the Act are out of touch with reality.
- Voting discrimination has not ended. If anything, voting protections should be expanded to states where proposed legislative barriers to voting are persistent
- Grassroots education and organizing is essential to pressure Congress to counteract the Court’s decision.
Several speakers went even further to advocate for a Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing the right to vote for all. As speaker after speaker proclaimed, the Voting Rights Act was one of the greatest pieces of legislation on equality in our nation’s history.
Former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) leader and current U.S. Congressman John Lewis, the only person to speak at both the 1963 and 2013 DC rallies, stated on the day of the decision: “What the Supreme Court did was to put a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. [This] act helped liberate not just a people, but a nation.”
President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Sherrilyn Hill on June 25 said, "Today will be remembered as a step backwards in the march towards equal rights. We must ensure that this day is just a page in our nation's history, rather than the return to a dark chapter."
Within hours of the court decision, Texas, one of the states previously covered by Section 4 of the Act, announced it would immediately start enforcing a photo ID requirement for voters that had beenpreviously blocked by a federal court. North Carolina had recently passed asimilar voter ID law.
It’s not only southern states that seek a return to the dark ages of Jim Crow, poll taxes, and literacy tests. Reactionary legislators in many northern states have introduced similar legislation over the past few years. The Supreme Court decision puts the Voting Rights Act into a coma, unable to be fully utilized to protect the most cherished of rights for many – the ability to vote.
Unfortunately, speakers at the 50th Anniversary events as well as those who criticized the original decision overlooked ongoing threats to liberty and equality posed by equally disturbing Supreme Court decisions of the past – those creating and expanding inalienable constitutional rights for corporations and the declaration that political money is equivalent to political speech.
These connections are real and salient, not forced or contrived. The education, advocacy and organizing to restore and expand the Voting Rights Act could naturally include education, advocacy and organizing to end corporate personhood and money as speech. And vice a versa.
Inalienable constitutional rights for corporations, which are legal creations of the state, were originally attainted by the corruption of the 14th Amendment, granting freed slaves due process and equal protection rights. The 13th (ending slavery), 14th, and 15th (the right to vote for African American males) Amendments were the three post-Civil War constitutional court decisions.
Corporate attorneys perverted the 14th Amendment; fictionally claiming its provisions actually applied to them as well as freed slaves. Following the 1886 Santa Clara v Southern Pacific Supreme Court decision, the courts began hearing distinctly more 14th Amendment cases related to the repression of newly granted corporate “rights” than repression cases of newly won human rights for freed slaves.
Corporations became “parasites” on the 14th Amendment “host.” In biology, a host or organism harbors parasites, providing them nourishment and protection. Parasites survive only so long as the host lives. Corporations have been shielding themselves by the 14th Amendment for 127 years, nourishing and expanding their power and rights by manipulating their host – resulting in the wide expansion of never-intended corporate rights through similar corporate perversions of many of the Bill of Rights
Concurrently, the 1976 Buckley v Valeo Supreme Court decision equaling “money as speech” provided its own set of protections to those who desired to translate their economic wealth into political access and influence. If money is speech, then those who have the most money have the most speech. This drowns out the voices of those without money.
The corporate parasitic perversion of our Constitutional Amendments has surely weakened them – threatening the very heart of protecting the inalienable rights for all.
The importance and significance of voting rights is diminished if corporations and money from a wealthy few profoundly influence what issues are on the political arena (i.e. those defined by powerful corporations with political influence) and which candidates run for office (i.e. those who can raise the most money). The power of the vote is further eroded if issues aren’t even permitted to be politically discussed and debated by elected representatives (i.e. keeping big box stores out of community-conscious cities and towns because to do so violates their 14th Amendment equal protection “rights” or forcing food producers in the name of protecting health and safety to list their ingredients because to do so violates their Bill of Rights right not to speak).
Those who seek to restore and expand voting rights and those asserting only human beings, not corporations, have constitutional rights and that money is not speech can find common cause on a number of areas:
- We are dealing with fundamental democratic, self-governing, self-determinationrights that must minimally be present for anything approaching a democraticrepublic to exist.
- An activist, unelected and unaccountable Supreme Court overturned democratically enacted laws and rules protected and expanding the rights of real human beings and those without money from having real political voices.
- We can’t simply react to seemingly never ending assaults to our rights. We have to affirm our “dreams and visions” by proactive proposals – whether legislative or constitutional.
- June 25, 2013 may very well become a political and organizing focal point for Voting Rights activists just as January 21, 2010 (the date of the Citizens United decision) has become for the Move to Amend campaign. There might be opportunities to cross link commemorations.
- Mass multiracial and multigenerational political movements must be build and maintained to pressure for change. They are how fundamental rights have been achieved in the past. They are how they will be restored and expanded now. While we need political friends inside Congress, the inspiration and perspiration for profound change must come from We the People in all 50 states. Grassroots activities must include educating, advocating, organizing (including mass actions), and institution building.
The NAACP during the next year has set restoring and expanding the Voting Rights Act as a major priority. They and others with similar goals are reaching out for allies. The NAACP and others are alreadyactive in organizing (including civil disobedience) in North Carolina against voter disenfranchisement and budget cuts through their “Moral Monday” campaign.
Working on Voting Rights is a complementary “democratic first principle” strategy to the quest of asserting human rights over corporate rights and money. It’s all part of a larger effort to organize for the “right rights.”
“We Have a Dream” as well – that of ending all impediments to the full liberation of all people.
Real people that is.