X 1.18.16 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2016
“So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind — it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact — I can only submit to the edict of others.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957
30 years ago, in Mrs. DesJarlais’s first-grade classroom at Riverview Elementary School in Wausau, I was first exposed to the speeches and ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr. I was instantly inspired. Here was a man who matched the intensity and love of another rabble rouser I’d been hearing so much about in Sunday School.
As I recall, it was still somewhat acceptable to drop racial jokes in normal conversation during the Family Values 80’s, and even into the early 90’s. Therefore, it used to be rather easy to find the right settings to stand up against racism.
Racism in Wisconsin tends to be a little less overt and a little more insidious now. To point out racism is often to politicize the issue and stir up controversy. So be it. It’s not as though King, my earliest hero, was an apolitical man who avoided controversial talk.
Ideological allies of the disingenuously-named All Lives Matter movement, the counterweight to the Black Lives Matter movement, have opposed granting asylum to Syrian refugees in my state of Wisconsin. Over the previous five years, they’ve also done a lot to roll back voting accessibility in our blackest cities, Madison and Milwaukee. Our Republican legislature (all but one member) and governor have ended critical components of early voting in these two cities, claiming that allowing longer voting times in our crowded metro areas puts our tiny, white, rural communities at a disadvantage. According to our State Senate Majority Leader, it was important ensure that these tiny, white, rural communities, who overwhelmingly support Republican candidates didn’t have to watch Milwaukee residents on TV voting at a time of day when they couldn’t.
Nevermind the fact that wait times aren’t comparable between small, rural communities and large, urban communities on Election Day. And let’s conveniently ignore the demographics of our cities, full of university students, poor folks, and minorities who regularly turn out for Democratic candidates.
2016 is the first presidential election year since the changes took place. It will be interesting to see if our urban voters will overcome the new roadblocks.
Interestingly, the one Republican Senator who stood against his party’s cynical actions, has since retired. You can read a little bit about why he quit in this article.
King’s legacy in Wisconsin has been bruised by the actions of a majority of our state elected officials. Our state historically struggles with black and white relations. Many economic and social indicators put Wisconsin at the top of the list of worst places to be black. We lock up black men at the highest rate in the country, often stripping them of their voting rights even after they’ve left prison. I can’t imagine a way the 2014 action to increase disenfranchisement will make things better.
Over the coming months, I will be asking black Wisconsinites to weigh in on this very specific issue of voting accessibility. If no one is interested in doing an interview for my little site, I’ll do my best to re-post articles and other media that address this issue from the standpoints of members of the communities most directly affected by the 2014 decision.
I’m not pretending to be unbiased about this. My bias is toward removing obstructions from the voting process. I see the 2014 legislation as a direct, unjust attack on the voting rights of a segment of our state’s population. As a father, I don’t want my boys to think it’s OK to stay silent in the face of injustice, even when that injustice is most directly felt by people who don’t look like us.