It Disfranchises

It Disfranchises

By chance, I saw the news about the Texas voter ID law just before re-reading W.E.B. Du Bois’ “Returning Soldiers” from 1919.

Du Bois’ piece is a stirring call to the black soldiers returning from WWI to now engage in the fight for democracy at home. In it, he lists the sins of this nation they have been fighting for, the ways in which it fails to live up to its own promises. Among those sins are lynching, encouraging ignorance, property theft, and insults aimed at its black citizens. But the passage that struck me just after reading the news from New Orleans was this:

It disfranchises its own citizens.

Disfranchisement is the deliberate theft and robbery of the only protection of poor against rich and black against white. The land that disfranchises its citizens and calls itself a democracy lies and knows it lies.

That was Du Bois in 1919, when the Jim Crow laws were still very much in place and when the poll tax – directly charging people to vote – was a real and legal thing. And now here we are 95 years later (incidentally, the length of Du Bois’ life) requiring people to pay money (indirectly) to vote. Out of fear that a few people might pretend to be someone else on voting day, we’ve decided that it is ok to prevent tens- or hundreds-of-thousands of otherwise qualified citizens from voting. Why? Because they don’t have and/or can’t afford to obtain appropriate ID.

The land that disfranchises its citizens and calls itself a democracy lies and knows it lies, even when it consoles itself by claiming it is trying to protect democracy.

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