|Community Voices Reflect on the
2020 Civil Rights Agenda
Voting, Democracy and Civil Rights
Even the Playing Field
Wisconsin is beginning to buzz now that it is officially an election year. 2020 will be a big year for our great state. Unfortunately, there are some extremely targeted
attempts to discourage certain populations from participating in the upcoming elections. Voter suppression is not exclusive or new to Wisconsin. Tactics like voter
discrimination, voter ID laws, gerrymandering, and voter purging are strategically utilized to disenfranchise voters of color. We have seen each one of these
tactics here in Wisconsin, and frankly, they are a dangerous attack on our democracy.
In the time of the Civil Rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jim Crow laws were among the tactics that were used to keep African Americans from voting.
Thanks to the profound efforts of Civil Rights leaders, like Dr. Martin Luther King, the 24th Amendment was adopted and outlawed poll taxes. The leaders of the
cause continued to demand equal access to the polls, which led to the Selma to Montgomery March where more than 500 nonviolent marchers were attacked by
law enforcement. This historical event was a catalyst for President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act into law. The Voting Rights Act of 1965
prohibited any election practices that would create barriers to the right to vote on account of race. It also required jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory
practices to obtain federal approval for their new election laws before those laws could take effect. In part, due to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, hundreds
of thousands of new Black voters registered to vote. With the rise of Black voters in the political arena, the number of Black elected officials grew as well.
Congress continued to pass extensions for the Voting Rights Act until 2011 when the United States began to see voter suppression on the rise again.
A record number of voting restrictions were introduced in state and federal legislatures. Some of these restrictions included strict voter ID laws, harsh cutoffs to
early voting, and limitations to voter registration. Then, in the 2013 Selby V. Holder decision, the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that
required pre-approval for voting policy changes. This led to states like Texas, Mississippi, and Iowa to enact potentially discriminatory laws with no oversight.
More recently, a judge in Wisconsin ordered the removal of more than 200,000 people from our voter polls. We know that voter purges disproportionately affect
young people and people of color. This voter purge targets these populations because they are more likely to be Democrats, so this decision was motivated by
partisan interests. This voter purge intends to prevent Democrats from maintaining or winning seats. This issue is just the latest in a long line of voting fights in
Wisconsin, and it is meant to be pivotal to the 2020 elections.
In addition to voter purging, in 2011 Wisconsin’s district maps were heavily gerrymandered to aid Republicans in winning 60 out of 99 Assembly seats in 2012.
Furthermore, Wisconsin’s stringent voter ID laws that were also passed under the Walker administration are shown to have reduced voter turnout, especially
amongst African American communities. Wisconsin’s photo ID requirement was put in place for the first general statewide election in 2016. In the 2016 presidential
election, Wisconsin’s overall voter turnout was around 70 percent which was the lowest in almost 20 years. Making it more difficult to vote, no matter what the
tactic, is as undemocratic as it gets. As a legislator, it is my priority to ensure that the people’s voices are heard and listened to.
That is why I support fair maps and fair elections. I will stand up to fight partisan gerrymandering by supporting an independent redistricting team, educating the
public on the dangers of rigged maps, and advocating for open and transparent redistricting after the 2020 Census. According to a statewide Marquette Law School
poll, nearly three-quarters of respondents said they favored nonpartisan redistricting for Wisconsin. I will continue to use my position to push forward the voices of
Wisconsinites because redistricting reform is not about Republicans or Democrats — it’s about ensuring our democracy reflects the will of the people. I believe
that competitive elections bring accountability. Rigged maps shield politicians and it is time for fair maps in Wisconsin.
As we remember Dr. King today, we must continue to take action, and as Dr. King said, “Let us march on ballot boxes until we send to our city councils, state
legislatures, and the United States Congress, people who will not fear to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God."
Rev. Dr. Carmen Porco
Housing Ministries of
American Baptists in
They Voted With Their Feet So That We Can Vote With Our Ballot
When I think of voting and democracy, I think of the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s. I think of the leaders that made the necessary sacrifice that future
generations may prosper by voting and building diversity into the mainstream systems. The purpose would be to change the system and society so that inclusion,
equality, and justice would replace the exclusion, injustice and inequality that scared the national character, a time piqued by oppression, injustice, racism and
violation of civil rights.
Having the right to vote was believed to be foundational for the development of a representative democracy. Dr. King and others worked to get the right to vote so
that a people might eventually get to the mountaintop. He realized that our democracy depended on all being given equal opportunity to own the system of
representation and the right to vote was essential.
During the last 60 years there has been great progress in some ways. We have more African American being elected to national, state and local offices. One could
conclude that American is becoming the land of the Beloved Community. Even though we have elected the first African American President, Barack Obama, we
need to realize that there was and continues to be a reaction of hatred and racism that is blatant and centered in the seats of our legislative, administrative and
judicial branches government.
For example, currently our government is obsessed with building a wall to keep immigrants out of the country. There is similarity here to the 50s and 60s when our
government did not want the African American people to have the right to vote. Today we once again have a governmental effort to wall out many American by
purging the voting roles. The mentality of walling people out of processes vital to diversity and democracy is not just about keeping immigrants and aliens out but
there is likewise a “Wall of the Ballot.” The ballot wall is to keep many Americans out of the political process so the old establishment can regain its privilege.
Such is a great threat not only to the poor and people of color but to all. For when one group is served such an injustice, other groups will also be served an
injustice. Paraphrasing Dr. King, injustice anywhere is an injustice to all everywhere.
Throughout the country, there are forces that are trying to build this Ballot Wall to maintain their strength and dominance in rewriting codes of racism, exclusion,
and inequality back into the norm of our society. Purging voters is yet another way of cementing this wall. Adding unnecessary processes to prove your voting
eligibility and legitimacy is another.
Where are our forces to stop the landslide of civil rights injustice and the marginalization of democracy? Have we utilized the principles that Dr. King espoused
as he led the civil rights movement? Have we passed them on to our young people? Do we understand how to use these principles and philosophy today? More
and more young people I talk to today have no understanding of the civil rights movement and or its many leaders. They are adrift in civil rights, human rights and
what is at stake of losing. I feel we have stored those principles and philosophy on the book shelves. I believe we have fallen victim to obtaining what we can
for ourselves. We no longer may have a communal sense of our interdependent destiny. I further believe that we have become blind to the arrogance and
oppressive nature of American Culture.
We must rise and reestablish some of the key principles of Dr. King. Let me share three. First, Dr. King believed the universe has a moral center. That the moral
center is pointed toward justice, not selfish ambition and success at the expense of others as illustrated in Dr. King’s quote, “The Moral Arch of the Universe is
long and bends toward justice.” In order for it to bend toward justice, we must do our part and that is to be active and pursue justice and not think that it
will come automatically.
Given this dark hour of attack on civil and human rights, we must engage the system and power structure at the very heart of its ideology and rise a thrust of new
conscience that erodes the oppressiveness of power and the power brokers. We can no longer be ideal and think that the success made in the past guarantees
progress in the future. Dr. King would say that we are part of the moral agents and we must fulfill our purpose of securing the integrity of systems that promote
justice and equality for all. While we live, it is our moral universe and we are the actors that secure its bend.
Second, Dr. King’s statement that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We cannot be passive in this age of deception, exclusion, injustice,
inequality and artificial barriers to our importance in weaving the web of interdependence that is the integrity of humanity’s garment of civility and community.
When our national leaders fail to fulfill their requirement to secure the “common good of all,” they should not be given the privilege of being considered a leader.
Today we are faced with animosity leaders that fear losing their power and privilege instead of leading outside of their particular ideology and creating a
government of the people, by the people and for the people instead of a government of some people, for some people and by a smaller number of persons and
corporations. We need to hold them accountable for creating legalities that enhance the equality and inclusion with justice for all. The rule of laws and the rule of
social norms must conform to the rule of conscience, a conscience of interrelatedness and interdependency.
Third, Dr. King’s belief that “Love is the only force that can change an enemy into a friend.” This is a force that is central to our being. Our current engagement is
aggravated hatred. It seems we have lost the ability to move beyond hating those that have a different political social, religious, racial, cultural, gender compass
than us. We must learn to engage our enemy with the force of love. There is no greater way to make your enemy strong that to isolate that enemy and criticize
at a distance. Dr. King wrote a compassionate letter to his white clergy who were condemning him and his leadership while jailed for protest. The forces of
arresting him were the voices and consciousness of this white clergy. Yet showing the force of love in this Letter from a Birmingham Jail was what converted
his white brothers of the cloth to see the deepness of love and brotherhood.
We are at a dark hour and perhaps decade for America. Make no mistake, for one to sit it out and believe that things will get better is asking for trauma, and great
devastation of civil rights, human rights, and the community and systems that we have come to depend on for justice, inclusion and equality. I would hope that it
will be the legions of people that know how to use the force of love to build the systems and institutions of justice that enhance all in the common good. If this
legion of people doesn’t rise to the occasion, then it will be the people controlling our destiny by leading out of the force of hatred. You have the opportunity
of choice to stand not only to vote but to engage the powerful with the power of truth by speaking truth to power.
A History of Suppression
The suppression of voting rights is American as apple pie, and recently it’s Wisconsin as cheddar cheese.
When this nation was founded, only white male property owners could vote. We weren’t much of a democracy at all back then, despite the high-minded rhetoric.
Denying the right to vote to African American men was a central plank of racist legislators, such as Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, who warned that it
would allow former slaves to gain “political and social equality with their former owners.”
Yet the Civil War itself, where one in ten Union soldiers were Black, made a compelling argument for granting Blacks the right to vote. This was not lost on
General William Tecumseh Sherman, who said: “When the fight is over, the hand that drops the musket cannot be denied the ballot.”
And by 1870, with the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, Sherman’s prediction came true.
But then came Jim Crow and the systematic effort — including poll taxes, literacy tests, and violent attacks — to deny voting rights to Black men (and, after
women’s suffrage in 1920, to Black women).
They were explicit about it back then. The president of Alabama’s 1901 constitutional convention, John Knox, said the goal of the convention was “to establish
white supremacy in this State.”
In modern times, the rationale for the dual assault on voting rights and civil rights has usually been more masked. But sometimes the mask slips.
Paul Weyrich, one of the leaders of the social conservative movement, didn’t mince his words in 1980 when he addressed the far-right Religious Roundtable: “I
don’t want everybody to vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections, quite candidly, goes up as the voting population goes down.”
This profoundly anti-democratic sentiment was recently echoed right here in Wisconsin.
In late November, Justin Clark, a senior campaign aide to Donald Trump, came to Wisconsin to trumpet voter suppression. “Traditionally, it’s always been
Republicans suppressing votes” in battleground states like Wisconsin, he told a group of Republican leaders, adding: “Let’s start playing offense a little bit. That’s
what you’re going to see in 2020. It’s going to be a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better funded program.”
And, of course, the voter suppression crowd has been playing offense in Wisconsin for the past decade.
Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-Legislature passed their so-called Voter ID law in 2011. When it passed, Republican State Senators were described by Todd
Albaugh, the chief of staff of Republican Sen. Dale Schultz, as being “giddy” that they were making it harder for minorities and young people to vote.
Federal Judge James Peterson, in a lawsuit brought by One Wisconsin Now, threw out the restrictions on early voting, saying they were designed to “suppress the
reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African-Americans.”
Then in the lame-duck session in late 2018, Speaker Robin Vos and Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald tried again to limit early voting, and Judge Peterson, struck it
down again, for the same reason.
The Voter ID law has had its desired effect, though. Both Representative Glenn Grothman and Brad Schimel, the former Attorney General of Wisconsin, said in
public that this law helped or was going to help Republicans win elections in Wisconsin. In fact, it may have been a big reason that Donald Trump carried
Wisconsin, because a lot of voters were turned away at the polls or discouraged from voting by the Voter ID law.
“Thousands, and perhaps tens of thousands, of otherwise eligible people were deterred from voting by the ID law,” said political science professor Ken Mayer at
the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who did a study of the issue. Poor and minority populations were affected the most, Mayer added.
And now we have a new effort to suppress the vote here as the rightwing
Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) filed a lawsuit against the
Wisconsin Elections Commission to force it to drop 234,000 citizens from
the voter rolls because they hadn’t responded within 30 days to a mailing
from the Commission trying to verify their addresses.
If the purge goes into effect, it will “target Black voters,” says the pro-
democracy group Demos, since “a disproportionate number of mailers were
sent to areas with large Black voting bases.” Adds the Wisconsin State
Journal: “About 35,343 voters in Milwaukee could see their registrations
Let’s be clear: Voter Suppression is un-democratic, small d, and
un-American, capital A.
And it should have no place in Wisconsin.