Recently, in a not-so-Supreme move, the highest court in the land struck down critical components of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) that had prevented over 700 efforts to suppress the voting rights of African Americans and other marginalized communities. This ruling ignores the history of oppression – yes, even here in Oregon – and current disenfranchisement efforts that make the VRA so important. We can’t let this step backward go by with nothing but silent outrage.
This isn’t just about African Americans. While history shows that we were specifically targeted, harassed, threatened, and even killed for attempting to exercise our democratic right, suppression of voting rights is designed as another tactic in the arsenal used to eliminate the chances of people of color, young new voters and anyone deemed to be a potential threat to the status quo from changing political outcomes by voting for democratic ideals.
This isn’t just about the South. The VRA can seem like something happening far away; after all, it occurred in politically-deadlocked Washington, D.C., it wasn’t trending or being “tweeted” very long, and Section 4 of the VRA only applied to a handful of states in the first place. However, Oregon’s history is not shiny and spotless – there’s a reason why we’re one of the whitest states in the country. Our past includes virulent racism, discriminatory housing, segregation, and internment. Yes, Oregon’s racial practices often mirrored the worst barriers enforced in the South.
Even in 2013, we saw voter suppression bills introduced into the Oregon legislature and a truly forward-thinking voter registration effort got defeated.
And this isn’t just another issue. The right to vote is absolutely precious and maintaining it for all of us must matter to every one of us. It’s not enough that some activists told me they expressed ‘silent outrage.’ It’s not okay that the lack of a unified response was dismissed as ‘justice fatigue.’
The struggle for justice must be waged everywhere, not just against the racism that gets highlighted in Alabama or Florida or Texas.
This is a time for action. Our civil rights are hard won and, in today’s political climate, we know that none of our past victories are guaranteed. We must be vigilant in our efforts to create a just society. To separate our common cause – one victory – from the larger quest for justice is to risk losing all we’ve gained.
The Court’s regressive decision on VRA signals a continuing and dangerous shift toward repression and the snatching ‘back’ of rights enjoyed by most Americans from those historically vulnerable to oppression. It cannot be allowed to happen.
We have work to do, together and now. Our voices must be stronger, our actions more organized, and our outrage and opposition must be louder and last longer. The result will be many more victories we can celebrate together.
Note: On Tuesday, July 30 MRG will host a community conversation at Portland Community College. The audience and panel discussion will focus on the connections between the VRA decision and the George Zimmerman verdict, what these events mean to Oregonians, and how we can mobilize a response. We hope you’ll join us!