Monday, July 1, 2013


John Roberts and The Supremes sing discordant tunes


(Monday July 1, 2013.  Gettysburg, PA) Today marks the 150th anniversary of the first day of battle between Confederate troops and Union forces in this unremarkable locale in Pennsylvania.  The epic battle that lasted for three days was the bloodiest in American history.  It has been designated by historians as the decisive confrontation that turned the tide in favor of the Union.  Up to that point the Confederacy had defeated the Union on virtually every battlefield and skirmish.  Though the Confederates were outnumbered by an estimated 30,000 soldiers, their previous routings of Union troops had them confident as they assembled here determined to “take the fight” directly to “the North”.  Voluminous accounts and records, a mountain of scholarly studies, papers and books dissect the battle from every angle.  That is what historians do; they assess from afar, from well beyond the immediate and with the “after the facts” perspective.  Gettysburg may have more name recognition than some of the other Civil War battle sites because of the famous address delivered by President Abraham Lincoln here on November 16th, 1863.

Despite the outcome of “the War between the States” it took over 100 years for African Americans to win the right to vote and still additional years for them to obtain “equal rights under the law” as codified in our Bill of Rights and Constitution.  It was as epic a battle as any fought with firearms and cannons, bayonets and hand to hand.  For those of us old enough to recall, it took more than activism and legislation to overcome the long arms of racism, prejudice, and inequality.  Decades of overt hostility, segregation, and “Jim Crow” passed before President Lyndon Johnson was able to sing into law the body of legislation that began to ‘level the playing field’ for African Americans in our society.  Yet none of those federal actions were sufficient to eradicate the long standing bias against our fellow citizens who happened to be of African descent.  The legacy of 400 years of slavery would not die an easy death no would it loosen its grip simply because a bill was signed. 

We can fast forward through the tough years of affirmative action, forced busing, active desegregation, the longevity of stereotypes, bias, and lingering animus, resentment and garden variety prejudice and assess where we as a nation, as a society, are today.  Yes, we have twice elected by wide margins an African American President of these United States.  Surely, our children and our children’s children have grown up in a far more “color blind” culture than we could have imagined as youngsters. 


American history is a history of immigrants.  Each nationality that migrated to these shores has faced some degree of racism and efforts to exclude them from assimilation.  While it is true that no other ethnic or racial group were ever enslaved, by law, there have always been significant obstacles towards acceptance and inclusion.  Irish Catholics who fled their homeland during a famine and militant oppression were initially discriminated against as were those who sailed from the ports in Italy, Sicily, and other countries in Eastern and Western Europe.  But somehow the simmering light beneath our perpetually melting pot was able to absorb the newcomers.  Our history is a unique beacon of hope and the world over folks yearn for a shot at “The American Dream”.  As clich├ęd a phrase as that is, as tired, antiquated, dusty and tattered as it may be, it still represents who we are. 

Be we first generation Americans with our familial roots patently visible or seventh generation Americans with little or no connection to our forefathers, at some level, we can admit that “we came” from somewhere else.  Perhaps that is why the notion that this job that is America is complete and no more immigrants need apply  is nothing more than infinitely selfish and plays to the baser instincts some among us exhibit.  If it were not so disturbing the efforts of some to distort the concept of equal rights would be comical.  Sadly, there is no comedy in this equality tragedy.


Admittedly, our country and the world is of a far different composition and protocol than it was 100 years ago.  Societal and cultural constructs are varied and more diverse and governmental agendas, attitudes and allowances far more circumscribed.  Last week, in an unabashedly schizophrenic spasm, our Supreme Court rendered judgments on issues that were, at their very core, matters of equality.  One day they struck down an essential element of the Voters Rights Act (VRA); the next day they vacated the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  In the case of the former minorities will encounter challenges to their access to vote, in the latter, non-heterosexual couples who marry will be granted the same rights and privileges that come with any legal marriage. This is a classic example of one step forward, two steps back.

In striking down Article 4 of the VRA while Republicans have already gerrymandered and redrawn the electoral maps from coast to coast effectively guaranteeing GOP dominance in many districts, huge segments of the electorate will be disenfranchised.  The right to vote was hard fought and bitterly contested for decades in parts of the country and now, the Supreme Court has paved the way for states to enact all sorts of harsh legislation the likes of which have not been seen since the days of Jim Crow.  The majority opinion held that Article 4 of the VRA has lost its relevance in today’s America.  This couldn’t be farther from reality.

Many of the laws passed in the 1960’s have lost their relevance such as Affirmative Action, quotas, and forced orchestrated integration.  It has taken almost 50 years for this to be the case.  A wide majority of Americans across all demographic blocs including African Americans agree that Affirmative Action and its protections have become antiquated.  However, by an equally wide margin Americans agree that voting should be made easier for all legal voters to participate.  Americans recognize the power of the vote and it is a fundamental, if not sacrosanct right. 

It has been the explicitly pronounced desire of many Republican Party state chairman and elected officials on all levels to enact law that will restrict African Americans and other minorities from casting their votes. They have made no secret of their motives and goals as they have accelerated their efforts towards this end in a host of states with even more similar efforts spreading into more jurisdictions.  In the run up to the last national election cycle 17 states had passed legislation that overtly limited minorities’ access to the polls.  Their tactics have ranged from reducing the number of polling places in heavily and predominately “minority” districts to abolishing “early voting” in those very same places.  The GOP believes that minorities are automatically “Democrats” so it is in their best interest to have fewer and fewer of these voters participate in the electoral process.  The Supreme Court ruling on the VRA last week has essentially given the GOP free reign to do whatever they care to in their districts when it comes to voting laws and statutes. 


Our country’s history is one of stubborn social inertia punctuated by spasms of clear headed decency.  It is improper to equate the struggle of African Americans with that of the GLBT community.  There is a parallel but the ferocity of the resistance to full recognition of African Americans as full members of our society, of total acceptance of them as rightful recipients of all elements of citizenship, was a terribly long bloody and bruising campaign.  A member of the GLBT community can easily hide their true identity while African Americans could not conceal their skin color.  However, the essence of equal rights under the law is that no one among us should have to conceal our true identity be it racial, religious, or sexual orientation.  Unfortunately in the 237th year of the United States our Supreme Court has yet to demonstrate that inequalities still persist, that many overt and subtle discriminatory factors and practices are still condoned.  Until we are all treated equally without qualification or caveat, none of us is truly living in a society that upholds our nation’s most fundamental founding doctrine.


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