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Attack on Civil Rights: Deja Vu 1960s, 1930s…

February 22, 2012 By Lee Egerstrom, Economic Development Fellow

We shouldn’t be smiling, but the impulse is understandable. The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has put up a $1,000 bounty for anyone who can prove a case of voter fraud that could have been prevented by a proposed Constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot this November.

Back up about three paces and look around. The fact that no one will collect on the ACLU bounty becomes irrelevant.

What should become clear is that Minnesotans’ civil liberties are under attack on a wide front, a coordinated attack that has far-reaching economic and social consequences for future generations. It is an attack that will make Minnesota society even more divisive and lead to greater class warfare down the road.

“It is the civil rights battle all over again,” said Patricia Mack, a retiree who has become a volunteer for the Minneapolis chapter of the League of Women Voters to help people register to vote.

It isn’t just black people being singled out now, like a half century ago, she added. “The targets are the young, the elderly and the immigrants.”

Amending the state Constitution to restrict people’s lives and livelihood, and make it difficult to vote, all become personal liberty issues that will carry economic baggage for the state.

Mack wants to help people potentially harmed by Legislative actions and proposed Constitutional amendments to retain their ability to vote, she said. Requiring new voter identification records to register to vote is a case in point; her mother, who will soon turn 90, was born at home, in Mississippi.

“I don’t know where you’d start looking for the paperwork so she can continue to vote,” Mack said. And it would be an equally difficult problem for refugees and immigrants who may have become citizens but still wouldn’t have the paperwork to vote.

That, of course, is the purpose behind what the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University College of Law calls the “voter suppression effort” that is sweeping about half the U.S. states.

The League of Women Voters and the American Association of Retired People (AARP) in Minnesota are among more than 40 groups opposing Conservative-financed state efforts to suppress access to the polls.

Efforts to restrict same-sex marriages, assaults on labor’s ability to organize and collectively bargain for employees, the never-ending assault on schoolteachers and public employees, and by extension, to the children in public schools and people in need of basic public services, are all part of the same anti-civil liberties crusade.

“There is a connection. All these actions have a political agenda behind them,” said Dale Carpenter, the Earl R. Larson Professor of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law at the University of Minnesota Law School.

The attack extends to health care and the accessibility of ordinary people to gain health care insurance coverage. Carpenter said he is hopeful Minnesota Public Radio and other media will cover the oral arguments scheduled for March before the U.S. Supreme Court over the Constitutionality of what the most regressive forces call “ObamaCare," which is aimed at making more Americans eligible for minimal healthcare coverage.

“These arguments should be of interest to everyone interested in the purpose of the law,” Carpenter said.

All told, this attack is just another front in the assault on the lower classes, the middle class, the elderly, the young, the riff-raff, the heathens, or however the conservative regressive forces might describe the unworthy.

So-called "Right to Work" laws, which have been proposed as a Constitutional amendment in Minnesota, are like Voter ID actions that suppress workers rights to bargain and protect hard-fought gains made by labor in the 1930s to make labor markets work like a so-called “market.” Cutbacks in state support of government services shift burdens back to local governments and property taxpayers who can’t escape tax subsidies and unfair tax rates applied to the most privileged.

The never-ending attacks on schoolteachers and public school districts bring back memories of the battles over “separate but equal” school systems of the 1950s and 60s that were always separate, but never equal.

Race issues haven’t gone away, although indoor plumbing has scrubbed up how the issues are projected. Classism hasn’t gone away, either. Isolating communities, such as the gay and lesbian communities, follows the pattern of past U.S. and European practices of seeking scapegoats for political benefit.

What should alarm Minnesotans in 2012 is that rarely have so many regressive forces been marshaled as a political force in any given year. This means everyone’s individual rights; indeed fairness itself are under attack.  

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  • Patricia Mack says:

    February 22, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Think of all the seniors who have moved into nursing homes.  They need to be vetted as residents of their new abodes.  In the past nursing home staff could go with a person to the poll—-often in their buildings—to affirm that they lived there. My own father-in-law had that help when he was 80 years old and virtually bed ridden.  Voting matters deeply. I still imagine my father, long dead, rolling in his grave each election, because he can’t vote and cancel out his more conservative wife’s vote, since she is still living!

  • Dan Conner says:

    March 5, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    I don’t think there should be doubt in anyone’s mind that the Republican effort for voter ID, and other efforts to make voters jump through hoops and cost them money, is an effort to suppress the vote for Democrats.  Republicans have been repeatedly asked to furnish instances of voter fraud, with little to no response.  Instead, there are Republicans in Indiana and Wisconsin charged with election fraud.

    There is the problem…Republicans.  They are the frauds looking to trample the Constitutional and civil rights of Americans.  It is the poor, disabled, elderly, and minorities that will have the most difficulty getting voter ID’s.  And they are mostly Democrats.

    So, Republicans are willing and eager to deprive rights of people to win elections.