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Posted under: Opinion

Black Voters Will Never Accept Going Backwards, So It’s Best That The Country Pay Attention To The Warning Signs

There are already plenty of signs that the notion of overturning an election, and more specifically negating the votes of Black voters, is not limited to Trump.

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Trump’s coup attempt may have failed, but it could still have a significant impact on America’s fragile democracy. And the likelihood of long-term damage increases exponentially if congress fails to take action against those who have planned, supported, incited and participated in this insurrection. To assume otherwise would be to ignore painful lessons that Black people in America understand far too well. In fact, while white America was shocked by last week’s Capitol riot, Black America’s collective response has been “we tried to tell ya.”

Perhaps the most enduring legacy of Trump’s effort to overturn the presidential election results will be that such efforts are now a part of daily discussion. Although the majority opinion at the moment is that such a strategy is dangerous, illegal and some might even say abhorrent, that does not change the fact that the strategy is being openly discussed. Whether we want to admit it or not, such tactics are now a part of the electoral toolkit, and American history unfortunately shows that once in the toolkit, no strategy is off limits, particularly when it involves white supremacy, structural racism and the human rights of Blacks in America.

Following the end of the Civil War in 1865, some newly freed Black men were able to vote and win elected office; women were still denied this right. Ironically, perhaps one of the most important examples was found in Georgia, which just last week was the epicenter of U.S. politics. In 1868, 33 Black men were elected to the Georgia state legislature. However, in September 1868, white members of the Georgia legislature voted to expel the Black members on the grounds that the new state constitution did not guarantee them the right to hold office.

Black efforts to protest these actions led to the Camilla Massacre of 1868, during which 15 Black marchers were killed. In the following weeks, white men from Camilla proceeded through the countryside beating and warning Black people that they would be killed if they voted in the next election.

Incidents like these led to the need for the 15th Amendment, which sought to establish Black voting rights even more directly than the 14th Amendment, which had already addressed citizenship. The amendments led to Black elected officials at all levels of government, including Mississippi’s Blanche Bruce and Hiram Revels, who preceded Tim Scott and now Rev. Raphael Warnock as U.S. Senators representing a southern state.

However, following the end of Reconstruction and the removal of federal troops from the south, the KKK and other domestic terrorists successfully removed Black people from office and structurally disenfranchised Black voters in ways that would last for a century, including some methods that continue today. Thus, some suppression tactics and coup attempts that initially failed eventually became the law of the land.

Historians have often pointed out the many parallels between America’s original Reconstruction period, the civil rights movement of the 1960s which is often viewed as the second Reconstruction, and our current moment in time which some people refer to as a third Reconstruction.

There are already plenty of signs that the notion of overturning an election, and more specifically negating the votes of Black voters, is not limited to Trump. Even after it was clear that last week’s insurrection at the Capitol had resulted in the loss of at least five people, 147 Republicans still voted to overturn the election results.

Moreover, prior to last week’s acts of domestic terrorism, the state of Texas had already filed a lawsuit seeking to block the electoral votes from four states that Biden won in November. It was no coincidence that the four targeted states — Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Georgia — were all states where Black voters residing in large cities had played a significant role in the election results.

The attempt to overthrow the election would have been dangerous enough had it only come from Trump and the state of Texas, but ultimately the litigation was supported by 126 Republican members of Congress, representing congressional districts in at least 29 states. The lawsuit was also supported by attorneys general from 17 other states.

And last week it became clear that some state and local elected officials are not only willing to support legal efforts to overthrow elections, but they are willing to do so violently as well. It has already become clear from photos and social media posts that at least some of the domestic terrorists who swarmed the Capitol are in fact GOP state lawmakers.

Black voters are currently celebrating our voting power, a power which not only determined who the Democratic presidential nominee would be but also helped carry him to victory in key battleground states. And it is Black voting power and historically high voter turnout in Georgia which literally shocked the country and helped determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. But even as we celebrate these victories, we face the reality that roughly one third of voters in the country, and elected officials in over half the states, are absolutely fine with the notion of disenfranchising our community and overturning elections decided by our votes.

There is no easy path in dealing with this reality, although one immediate step must be holding accountable Trump, the representatives and senators who objected to the electoral results, and every person who participated in the Capitol riot and the resulting loss of life. 

Secondly, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which has been languishing in Congress due to Mitch McConnell’s obstruction, must be immediately passed. And beyond the current pending act, we must create legislation that imposes stiffer consequences on those who abuse voting rights. The same discussion that is currently taking place in regards to qualified immunity in cases of police violence must be extended to matters of voting rights. Would be voter suppressors must know that they will face consequences, or else we could see an attempt to repeat the post-Reconstruction backlash against Black voters. 

And thirdly, and far more broadly, it’s past time for America to have a truly comprehensive reckoning on race. The historic summer of protests last year forced the country to confront systemic racism, particularly in regards to policing issues. But Black activists have been warning for years that police violence was simply the most visible form of the white supremacy which exists in far more segments of white America than most white folks are comfortable admitting.

Black voters today will never accept going backwards, so it’s best that the country pay attention to the current warning signs.

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