Sunday, June 10, 2012

Whose Bus Are You On?

Earlier this year, President Obama had this moment alone, sitting in the very seat on the very bus where Rosa Park's act of quiet defiance became an iconic moment in the struggle for racial equality in law and in practice.  Looking at this photo we may reflect on how far we've come, but sitting on that bus might prompt someone to realize how the fight is never over, and even some of the same ground must be defended and won again and again. 

In agitating for the practical, equal right to vote, African Americans in the 60s were not only claiming their own rights but affirming and reviving constitutional and societal rights for everyone.  By adding their free participation in the political process, and the economy, they added value to society, and made it easier for others to use their rights. 

A mirror of their fight for voting rights in this generation is resistance to the attempts by GOPer governors and legislators throughout the country to erode and even take away voting rights.  In Florida, the governor has essentially declared war on the federal government, specifically the Justice Department, in announcing his defiance of their order to stop the cynical attempts to deny citizens their right to vote.  Using the plainly cynical excuse of addressing a voting fraud that does not exist, he seeks to seize political power by preventing people who might vote against the GOP from being permitted to cast their votes.

There are principled people in Florida stopping this particular effort, but it is only one among many in that state, and in many other states.  Just as in the Civil Rights era, such efforts are conducted by cynical politicians who feed (and feed on) the ignorance and bigotry of the people who support them. 

Controlling who is eligible to vote is an age-old strategy for the undemocratic seizing and holding of power.  So is demagoguery, which in its way is also an assault on the integrity of elections, especially when it involves pernicious lies.  In this election, involving media paid for by huge amounts of money, those lies will be persistently repeated--and the Romney campaign is extraordinary in the number and size of its lies.

They are not differing approaches to policy, or arguable interpretations of meaning.  They are lies about quantifiable facts.  Romney's campaign is based on insisting that President Obama has vastly increased federal spending, added greatly to the federal deficit, and greatly increased federal government regulation.  None of this is true.  Yet Romney has the money behind him to repeat these lies endlessly, in media packages designed for those who believe television dramas and reality shows are true.  Update: the pattern in Mittdacity.

This attacks the legitimacy of government at its core.  For if there is no incentive in doing something difficult since your opponents will simply lie about it, or in attempting to address real problems because there is no political benefit to doing so, it's not only democracy but government and the functioning of society that is in danger.

Romney's lying is becoming his defining characteristic.  One writer noted, "There no longer exists any doubt that Mitt Romney intends to win the White House by conducting the most dishonest, unscrupulous and reprehensible campaign ever devised."  If he is successful, elections become a sham, as real as reality TV.  The fight for effective rights, for a real representative democracy, and against ignorance and bigotry, is as real and necessary now as it was when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus.  We must recognize how our different situations today nevertheless constitute the same fight.

 One difference is that on the surface at least the Civil Rights movement was an insurgency that rattled the established practices of a settled society.  Today the fight is to keep rights from being taken away by those who feel the tide of history against them.  But society is also in more peril, more danger from a return to rule by the cynically selfish and the ignorant.  It's this generation's fight.  They are getting on the bus.  What will they do?           

Update 6/12: The lawsuits are flying.  Florida has sued the federal government over its attempts to stop the voter purges, while local election officials condemn the Governor's suit and say they won't resume the purges anyway.  The Justice Department has sued Florida to stop the voter purge.  Meanwhile a Tea Party front group has sued several states to force them to enact similar voting purges.  So whose bus are you on?

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