(I was a little late finishing this post, but perhaps it’s not bad to keep MLK Day going all week. — Charley)
I’m used to hearing on MLK day, especially from white politicians, that we’ve made a lot of progress, but there’s still much work to be done. Some of that type of tribute, like the secular beatification of Dr. King himself, is self-congratulatory and empty. But it also is an acknowledgment that the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, and the Voting Rights Act, were indeed signature moments, the result of endless labor and untold physical and mental sacrifice.
This excellent discussion from Saturday’s Under the Radar restates the obvious: That we are in fact in an era of active backsliding — the culmination of a generation of deliberate attacks on the franchise for African-Americans, and on democracy itself. This benefits those who would gain power through illegitimate and anti-democratic white supremacy — not just specifically white racists, but powerful conservative-aligned business interests who claim “plausible deniability” while using white supremacy for political muscle.
Specifically culpable is Chief Justice John Roberts, who ascended to his role not in spite of, but because of his career of hostility to voting rights. He was mentored by Justice Rehnquist on this matter; and was groomed by the conservative establishment for precisely the role of eroding the franchise. In Shelby vs. Holder he got his chance, which inaugurated a new Jim Crow era of voting rights restrictions across the country. Without Shelby et al, Stacy Abrams is your governor of Georgia, for example.
On MLK Day we talk about gauzy themes of equality and justice. But these are nothing without power — specifically, the political power of black people. As Dr. King said in 1957, political power will provide its own balance:
Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights.
Give us the ballot (Yes), and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law; we will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute books of the South (All right) and bring an end to the dastardly acts of the hooded perpetrators of violence.
Give us the ballot (Give us the ballot), and we will transform the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs (Yeah) into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.
Give us the ballot (Give us the ballot), and we will fill our legislative halls with men of goodwill (All right now) and send to the sacred halls of Congress men who will not sign a “Southern Manifesto” because of their devotion to the manifesto of justice. 5(Tell ’em about it)
Give us the ballot (Yeah), and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will do justly and love mercy (Yeah), and we will place at the head of the southern states governors who will, who have felt not only the tang of the human, but the glow of the Divine.
Give us the ballot (Yes), and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court’s decision of May seventeenth, 1954. (That’s right)
Dr. King prefers political power to reliance on the good nature and generosity of spirit of white people: Give us the ballot! The elections involving Barack Obama, and some of those in the South in 2018, have proven a point which has become unavoidable: That the Democratic Party, without very strong black turnout, is toast. The inverse is also true: In its current racist-rump form*, the Republican Party is toast, even in supposed “red state” strongholds like North Carolina, Texas, and Georgia — in the long term if not immediately. If you actually include everyone, red states aren’t actually that red. Republicans know that!
And it may seem crass, but I think it’s completely in keeping with Dr. King’s words: Any Democrat of any race knows how dependent the party is on the black vote. It’s just an acknowledgment of power. That’s not a bad thing, and in fact it’s more reliable than the vagaries of white peoples’ good will. African-Americans don’t need to ask, when they have the power of the vote which is the margin of victory.
*There is no inherent reason why the Republican candidates couldn’t moderate their views, and reach out to African-Americans with a message and agenda that included and appealed to them. But they’ve decided not to do that; it’s incompatible with the profits of the right-wing media-industrial complex.