Jesse Jackson: The New South Agenda
- From: "GWhyte" <gwhyte3003@xxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Fri, 19 Aug 2005 14:55:04 -0400
By Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr
© Tribune Media Services
This week thousands joined in the Georgia "Keep the Vote Alive" march,
calling on the Congress to renew the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and on the
Justice Department to enforce it. The Voting Rights Act has made a major
difference in America. When it was passed, there were some 300 elected
minority officials in the U.S.; today there are over 10,000. It wasn't just
African Americans who benefited. Other minorities also were protected. And
the South in general has grown as racial reconciliation has moved forward.
There is still much work to be done. The promise of the Voting Rights Act -
that every vote would count and every vote would be counted - remains
unfulfilled, as illustrated by the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. If
there is that much chicanery and fraud and malfeasance in a presidential
election, you can imagine what goes on below the screen in state and local
elections that get much less attention.
The right to vote is at the heart of our democracy - yet this all-important
right is not explicitly granted to individuals in the U.S. Constitution.
Instead, we have states' rights - a crazy quilt of 50 unique states'
different regulations, requirements and restrictions. And this simple truth
is the reason we so urgently need renewal of key provisions of the 1965
Voting Rights Act.
Central to the Voting Rights Act is that in states with a history of racial
segregation, any changes in voting procedures must have pre-clearance by the
Justice Department to insure that they do not have a discriminatory effect.
In Georgia, for example, there is now a proposed requirement that voters
obtain state-issued identification. The elderly, the disabled, rural voters,
those who do not drive, those of limited resources - all could be denied
their most precious democratic right under this discriminatory regulation.
One study found that two-thirds of the elderly citizens who voted last
November lack a state-sponsored photo ID. The pre-clearance provision of the
Voting Rights Act must be enforced, and it must be renewed. This guarantee
will expire in 2007 without Congressional action. . That is why thousands
joined to call on President Bush to support the reauthorization of the
Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Act is but one part of a New South agenda. Look at what
has happened in the South in the forty years since the Civil Rights
revolution that Dr. Martin Luther King led. Racial reconciliation has moved
forward. African Americans and whites play on the same athletic teams. There
is more socialization, more integration at the workplace. And the South has
benefited, with new investors and new industries moving in after segregation
was finally outlawed.
The great unfinished business in the South is economic justice. The South
has more poor people, more toxic waste dumps, more people without health
care, more children condemned to broken schools than any other region of the
country. So-called "right to work" laws are used to stop workers from
organizing. The South offered itself as a bastion of non-union cheap labor,
but now it must compete with repressed labor in China and elsewhere that is
forced to work for a few dollars a day.
Dr. King understood this forty years ago. He went from Selma and the Voting
Rights Act to Memphis, to march with sanitation workers struggling for a
decent wage. He understood that we had to create the conditions in this
society - a decent wage, the right to organize, high quality public
education and health care for all - that would enable poor people to work
their way out of poverty. He wasn't looking for handouts, but for a hand up.
But he was taken from us in Memphis and his agenda remains unfinished.
Everywhere I travel in the US, people worry about the state of our country.
They wonder if there is any hope for working families, whether their kids
will have a fair shot at the American Dream. They wonder if we can focus on
building democracy in this country, rather than losing lives trying to
export it through wars across the world. Is there hope? Dr. King's life
answers that. If we could come together to end segregation in America, if we
could pass a Voting Rights Act, and bring this country together, surely we
can come together to empower workers and to provide decent wages, health
care and education for everyone. It will take struggle and work. It won't be
easy. But together we can keep hope alive.
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