There is something wholesome and liberating about being madder than hell.
Some folks say getting hot and bothered does nothing but raise your blood pressure. But I’ve always felt that burning, seething, righteous indignation serves as a great motivator. It gives you a clear sense of the enemy and, when times get tough, can rekindle the fighting inner spirit.
Moments after the U.S. Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act in a 5-4 decision, the statements of anger from civil rights leaders and advocates came flooding in.
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who has a steel plate in his head today after nearly being killed marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma for the right to vote, issued a blistering critique of the court.
He said the court’s vote was like putting a “dagger” through the VRA. Others suggested the efforts of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and so many others was scuttled by a callus, partisan court.
A heap of indignation was heaped on the court’s only black justice, Clarence Thomas, who not only voted with the majority to weaken the Voting Rights Act, but he has wanted for a long time to throw out section 5 altogether, which calls for those areas covered under the law to have changes to voting procedures pre-cleared by the Justice Department.
You would think a black man from Georgia who personally witnessed the efforts to keep blacks from voting would be appalled at present day efforts to suppress the vote and champion efforts to expand access to the ballot. But he has never been a friend of civil rights, so his position was no shock to anyone.
So what do we do? Just yell, scream, march and go home?
No, the real solution is to use the anger at the court and those who support the decision and show them up at the ballot box.
We saw that in the 2012 presidential election, when blacks and others were so angry at the blatant efforts to suppress voters that they turned out in record numbers, even increasing turnout over 2008. There were a number of African-Americans who were not as enthused with re-electing President Barack Obama in 2012, but when GOP-led legislatures in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Alabama and Florida led a major assault on voters, they reacted with the appropriate anger.
No one expects Congress to actually pass changes to the Voting Rights Act to satisfy the Supreme Court, so it will be incumbent on change agents to vote out those who agree with the court.
Major voter registration efforts should be planned and executed in Georgia, where upwards of 800,000 African-Americans is not registered. Even getting one-third of them to register and vote could flip the entire political structure in the state. In Texas, it is estimated that more than 2 million Hispanics are unregistered but eligible to vote. If 25 percent of them register and go to the polls, that could dramatically change the political leadership in Texas.
The same could be said in other states. Minority voters should launch a 21st-century version of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (Rep. Lewis was a co-founder) and enlist white high school and college students in this effort. The voter ID requirements now popular among GOP legislatures also has a negative effect by requiring those in private colleges to get another form of identification.
The bottom line is our political system wants to take advantage of apathy to do as they wish and stay in office. Instead of being angry, let’s put a political bounty on any politician who doesn’t stand with us to strengthen the Voting Rights Act: Either you do the right thing or expect a massive mobilization effort to throw you out office.
Is that a threat? Absolutely. It’s time to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
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Roland S. Martin is host and managing editor of TV One Cable Network’s “Washington Watch” and senior analyst for the Tom Joyner Morning Show, where he is heard daily.