With the Democratic presidential debates underway, many of the candidates are discussing the importance of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. But the change the black community is looking for is more likely to come from a different branch of government. If black America wishes to see the changes it desires, it must vote for the right people. Unfortunately, black voter turnout has decreased significantly from the 2012 to 2014 presidential and congressional elections.
In 1965 under President Lyndon Johnson, the Voting Rights Act was implemented under federal legislation to prohibit racial discrimination under state and local levels. The bill was passed with the Senate vote 77-19 on May 26, 1965, but not passed by the House until July 9 with a 333-58 vote. During the time, only six African Americans were members of the U.S. House of Representatives and none were present in the U.S. Senate. It wasn’t until 1971 that there were 13 members in the House and one black in the Senate.
According to the National Park Service, within just a few months of its passage, one quarter of a million new black voters had been registered as of August 6, 1965. In Mississippi alone, the black voter turnout increased from 6 percent in 1965 to 59 percent in 1969. In 1969, Tennessee had a 92.1 percent turnout; Arkansas, 77.9 percent; and Texas, 73.1 percent. In the November 2014 report of voting and registration by the U.S. Census Bureau, of the total black population, only 63.4 percent registered to vote.
The correlation between most of these systemic problems, relate back to politics. A bottom-up effect occurs when you keep someone at their lowest by over-policing, imprisonment and stripping them of their basic human rights. Over-policing poor, drug-filled black neighborhoods leads to mass incarceration over nonviolent offenses and denial of human rights like voting, which could potentially influence a change for these systemic problems.
The American prison system, more prominently state prisons, are overcrowded. A good portion of the inmates are nonviolent, drug offenders who were targeted simply because they are black. Reiterating what our staff editorial expressed last week, in Virginia alone, 60.8 percent of black Virginians are disportionately represented in jails and prisons and as a result 20.4 percent have lost their right to vote “isolating them from their communities and civic participation.”
The president only has some power in executive decisions. Most power is held by the congressional level. The Democratic party has the largest backing from minorities, but the number of elected state representatives are lacking compared to those in the Republican party. Black America needs to understand the role Congress plays in executive decisions, especially when Republican members purposely try to sabotage Democratic efforts.
Efforts have been taken so far as to ensure black representatives fail at their goals in establishing change for the minority. Members of the Florida Republican Party held a secret meeting against Congresswoman Corrine Brown, where the goal was to jam numerous inmates and felons, who are ineligible to vote, into the 5th Congressional District.
Rep. Janet Atkins, who organized the secret meeting, stated, “They’re a part of the population. No, they can’t vote. So when you take a look at…how many minorities are in the prisons within that newly drawn proposed congressional — how many of them live in the prisons, that’s why Corrine Brown is so against having an east-west, because her concern is that they live in prisons and they can’t vote. So it’s a perfect storm.”
According to an interview on NewsOne Now, in efforts to counteract this plot, Brown has gotten support from neither the National Democratic Party nor the Florida Democratic Party. Felons are not allowed to vote once they are out of prison. Counties count felons as a part of the population in order to gain numbers for congressional purposes, but once they are back in society, they are not allowed to vote for the congressional members.
“Black Lives Matter” has gone as far as to create an entire website designed to discuss the political action they wish to change and have changed thus far. The website, Campaign Zero lays out comprehensive policy agendas at the federal, state and local levels, topics each presidential candidate supports in relation to Black Americans, and 10 quick-and-easy policy solutions to end police brutality.
When we don’t have the correct members in place to have control over the matters we wish to see change, we fail ourselves. We can no longer blame the system. We cannot blame a system that was not built for us, but we can vote the right representatives in to change the system to work for us. The change we wish to see is a political battle. The only people that have control over the matters we need reversed are “the ones with the power,” and as of now the power is not with the people. It’s a matter of politics, literally. There has never been a more true statement than Mahatma Gandhi’s: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Black votes matter. Black incarcerated votes matter.
Opinion Editor, Monica Houston
Monica is a transfer student from Norfolk State University studying English. Her dog, Furby, is an in-office celebrity and frequently attends production and meetings with Monica.