By David Sole
On November 3, 2020 the Republican Party suffered a stinging defeat in the elections when they lost control of the presidency and the U.S. Senate. Trump and his allies then made a desperate attempt to overturn the election in the infamous January 6 insurrectionary storming of the U.S. Capitol Building. While it did delay the confirmation of the vote by both houses of Congress as some elected officials fled for their lives and others cowered on the floor, the uprising was unsuccessful.
Now the right-wingers and white supremacists, led by the Republican Party, have intensified campaigns in states across the nation to suppress voters who caused their electoral defeat. It isn’t enough that they worked over the past decades to gerrymander voting districts to favor the election of their party candidates. Now they are brazenly proposing legislation that makes it harder for people to vote – especially African Americans, Latinx and other people of color.
On June 25, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to overturn a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The bare majority of the court ruled in Shelby County v Holder that states and localities no longer had to clear changes to their voting laws and procedures with the Federal government. Some states and localities under the 1965 law had been forced for almost 50 years to get clearance from the Justice Department if they had a history of racist discrimination in voting.
Serious attacks toward voter suppression have continued since then and now are intensifying. Voter suppression takes many forms, all designed to make it harder or impossible for some sections of the electorate to cast their ballots.
In many states Republicans are reducing the number of polling places, especially in communities of color. The hours that the polls remain open may also be reduced and early voting in person is being restricted. All of this is designed to make lines longer and waiting times excessive to discourage mainly Democratic Party voters. In Georgia a recent bill would make it illegal for anyone to pass out food or water to those standing on long lines to vote.
Mail-in ballots have been an important way for some sections of the population to cast a vote. Seniors and people with disabilities have long been afforded this right. In the November 2020 election mail-in ballots were made available to a much wider section of the populace and played an important role in defeating the Trump regime.
Trump and his minions feverishly spread the lie of fraud in the mail-in ballot process. Courts across the country threw out every legal challenge by the Trump lawyers for lack of any evidence. It has been reported that a total of 253 bills are being promoted in 43 states that would make Republican electoral chances brighter by making voting less accessible (salon.com Feb. 27, 2021).
Voter suppression sparks resistance
These attacks on voting rights are inevitably being met with outrage. At the local and statewide levels people are responding with legal action, lobbying and protests. The Democratic Party, whose success depends on a broad base and large voter turnout, is crafting a federal bill to protect and expand access to the ballot. Whether such a law can get through the Senate remains to be seen.
Georgia’s Republican Brian Kemp stole the 2018 election for governor by removing over half a million people from the rolls before the election. On March 25, 2021 Governor Kemp signed a bill designed to suppress African American and other voters. Park Cannon, an African American state representative, was arrested when she knocked in protest on the Governor’s door in the Capitol as he sat signing the bill. Voter suppression in Georgia comes only months after the state elected Democrats Joseph Biden for president and two senators, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff,
This wave of reactionary voter suppression is likely to unleash an even greater wave of struggle, and not just for access to voting in the capitalist elections. Much of the population, especially the youth, is aware that elections in the United States are not a guarantor of progressive change. A look back at the heroic campaigns throughout the South in the early 1960s reveals that a much broader struggle exploded among those denied basic rights. Within the decade of the 1960s the entire country was engulfed in mass protest and uprisings.
The U.S. ruling class has mixed feelings when it comes to voting rights. Of course they found over centuries that “democracy” – what Marxists call bourgeois or capitalist democracy – is an effective way to rule. People can vote and have the feeling that change can be made and things can be better through electing representatives. All the while, behind the scenes, the ruling rich control the system and keep enriching themselves.
But at times the exploited and oppressed people become conscious of their real subordinate role and start to use voting and other “rights” with an aim to make substantive changes. Then the ruling class has no problem crushing the people with no regard to voting or other rights. Anyone familiar with the history of U.S. foreign policy knows of countless military, CIA, economic or political intervention overseas where elected officials have been removed one way or another so that U.S. investments and control of these countries continues to enrich Wall Street.
A few of the most well known are the overthrow of President Mosadegh in Iran in 1953, President Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, President Lumumba of the Congo in 1961, President Allende in Chile in 1973, President Saddam Hussein of Iraq in 2003 and President Zelaya of Honduras in 2009. Inside the United States the ruling class had no problem keeping African Americans from voting for 100 years despite the 13, 14 and 15 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution following the Civil War.
Possibly the most important election going on right now has gotten the least attention. It is the vote of workers at the Bessemer, Alabama Amazon warehouse for union recognition. Over 6,000 workers, about 80% African American, are taking on one of the biggest corporate giants and its multi-billionaire boss, Jeff Bezos.
For many decades unions in the United States have been seeing declining membership and influence. This has been the result of a broad offensive by the corporations and bankers to drive down wages and benefits. It also reflects the lack of class consciousness of the union leadership and their unwillingness or inability to formulate tactics that are needed in a period of capitalist decline, as measured by the standard of living of working people and the oppressed communities, not the vast hoard of wealth by some 600 billionaire parasites.
If workers at Amazon are successful, despite all the anti-labor laws and the usual union busting corporate tactics, a vast arena may open up that could reverse the past era’s defeats and losses.
Ultimately it is not voting that decides the fate of the masses of workers and oppressed. It is the class struggle in its multitude of forms that can and will break the back of the bankers and bosses and which will redirect the wealth and productive forces of this nation and the world into solving all the problems facing us.