Black clergy from the Conference of National Black Churches (“CNBC”) joined forces with the Congressional Black Caucus (“CBC”) in Washington, DC for a first ever summit this week to discuss new voting laws, voting registration strategy and empowerment of the black vote. What Republicans call voter protection to prevent voter fraud is disguised as voter ID laws that actually prevent voting by blacks and other segments of the population, according to a panel of voting rights experts speaking at the conference.
These new GOP voter ID laws are intended to prevent voting by African Americans, Hispanics, senior citizens and young adults. Limiting early voting days, ending Sunday voting before Election Day, dissuading voter registration at Motor Vehicle Administrations offices and placing onerous burdens on voter registration groups, have no bearing on voter fraud. And requiring already registered voters to obtain new ID to vote is like beginning a race and then changing the rules in the middle. But this hasn’t stopped Republicans from spending money to pass laws to disenfranchise voters.
The National Black Clergy Conference boasts numbers representing more than 30 million people and over 500,000 congregations from mainstream predominately African American denominations in the US. If they exercise their collective strength and reported numbers, they could make major in- roads in getting out the black vote in significant numbers. Just this past Easter, a coalition of Black churches used its muscle in registering over 100,000.
For many clergy in attendance, they recognized that the fight they fought during the civil rights era has come back again—disguised by Republicans as voter protection. Hearing Rep. John Lewis (D. GA) say he did not get arrested 40 times and get badly beaten, for blacks to lose the vote through GOP efforts, clearly states what’s at stake. While blacks won the battle on voting rights during the civil rights era, the war is still waging in 2012 with the GOP’s assault on voting rights. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. so “where do we go from here?”
The fight continues this time with Attorney General Eric Holder, the Justice Department and other groups litigating laws which disenfranchise voters. Attorney General Holder has challenged voting rights laws in states such as Texas, South Carolina, Florida and Rhode Island. And even while the conference was convening, a federal appeals judge struck down most of Florida’s voter suppression law.
The CBC has outlined a three step plan for black congregations on what to do, how to do it and when to do it. The CBC identifies August as Voter ID month; September as Voter Registration/Education Month; and October as Get Out the Vote Month (“GOTV”). Easily identifiable tasks such as establishing a church fund to help obtain a valid government issued ID for many who may lack the funds to obtain ID; obtaining absentee ballots for those who may not be able to make it to the polls to vote and registering voters in the surrounding communities and arranging for transportation to the polls are some of the goals.
Recognizing that registering voters and getting them to the polls will not be enough in 2012, voting rights experts urged black clergy and their congregations to monitor polls as poll watchers or judges. Texas based TruetheVote.org, a right wing spin -off of the Texas Tea Party, expects to train 1 million people as poll watchers, who may come to black communities to intimidate and discourage minority voters and make it difficult for them to vote, all under the guise of voter protection.
Attorney General Eric Holder calls our right to vote our most sacred right. And we must continue the fight to protect it.