Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Liberty and Justice for All

By the time I was a junior at Groves High School in Birmingham, Michigan, I had been reciting the Pledge of Allegiance from the day I started kindergarten in Detroit. Every morning for nearly every school day of my young life, I had proudly put my hand over my heart and said,

“I pledge allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America,
and to the Republic for which it stands,
one Nation, under God, 
with liberty and justice for all.”

In 1961 my American History class was immersed in learning about the Civil War. Gone With The Wind was required reading—which my Grandmother thought was too risqué for a young girl, so I had to hide my paperback copy behind a Seventeen magazine.

United We Stand, Divided We...
Oil on Canvas 36"x36"
One day I was sitting in my history class in all my patriotic innocence, when the teacher, Mr. Nunn, digressed from the past and moved into the 60's present. He told us that in the southern United States of America black people had to pass literacy tests and pay poll taxes in order to vote.

I remember feeling a pain in the place where my hand had rested when I said the words, “With liberty and justice for all.” Stunned. Disillusioned. Dismayed. My wonderful country that welcomed all (it says so on the Statue of Liberty), the country with words to cherish and be proud of, didn’t allow some people to vote? 

The people who couldn't vote were the same ones whose ancestors had been stolen from their homes and made into slaves. People who had been the slave labor force that built the White House. People who had finally become free because of the civil war. How could that be? recently dug up Louisiana voter challenges from our shameful past. Literacy tests don’t sound so unreasonable in order to vote. I mean, you shouldn’t be stupid, right? Well, here are some sample questions you might be asked if you wanted to vote back then (only if you were black):

• Recite the Preamble to the constitution.
• Write right from the left to the right as you see it spelled here.
• Print the word vote upside down, but in the correct order.
• Spell backwards, forwards.

Could you pass?

In 1965 the Voters Rights Act stopped literacy tests and poll taxes.
In 2013 the Supreme Court dumped important parts of the Voters Rights Act.

As soon as the Supremes new rules for voting passed, the governors and legislators of several states began creating another bad dream from an ugly history. This time the discrimination isn't just based on race, but who you might vote for. Documentation that you never had to show before will be required. Students can’t register to vote at their colleges. 

Here’s the obvious motive behind the new rules: if you can’t win elections honestly, based on policy, then stack the deck; make it harder for the people to vote who probably wouldn’t vote for you.


If Democrats tried to make it hard or impossible for wealthy old white men to vote, that would be offensive too.

In some countries everyone is required to vote. It’s a civic duty. In the United States in 2013 your lucky (or white or not in college) if you can vote. 

And then there’s voting districts. Districts wrangled and contorted to look like nasty worms or dragons, making congressional voting skewed in favor of one party. Should there be a law that says districts can’t have more than four corners, unless one edge borders a lake or ocean? Would old white men pass such a law? 

So what do we do besides sit crying for our country? How can this be made right? Ideas?

To see more of the tests, copy and paste the link below into your browser: