This Year John Lewis Died and Nov 4, 2019, vote could die Nov. 3 2020: VOTE & GIVE THEM NO ROOM TO CHEAT!
by Rev. Charles Williams II and Congressman John Lewis
Charles Williams II is the Senior Pastor of The Historic King Solomon Baptist Church, Michigan Chair of the National Action Network, and a Doctoral Student at The University of Michigan in Sociology and Social Work, Rackham Merit Fellow
My first presidential election to vote in was the Gore Vs. Bush 2000 election. Born in 1980, I’m a borderline Gen X’er and Millenial. I can vividly remember sitting in my dorm room at Eastern Michigan University, I spent the whole month of November and December watching the news as legal camps argued over hanging chads, and protesters were dueling in the disputed counties of Florida. One day the ballots counted; the next day, they did not. Finally, the Supreme Court determined that George W. Bush legal team won. I was devastated; Democrats stepped inline, validated election results, and I walked away feeling like I wasted my vote. From then on, I realized that voter registration and voter education represent only two parts of voter engagement and, there had to be a sustained effort of voter protection.
Some policies have made voting more accessible over the years, but every time I feel like we take one step forward, Republicans create obstacles to take two steps backward. The Trump campaign and conservative groups are working hard at creating obstacles to voting. Recruiting poll monitors that may specialize in deception and confusion, challenging laws in Florida that now deny thousands of felons the right to vote, and planting white supremacist groups that seek to intimidate and cause confusion at polls. In 2016, we saw an unprecedented social media influx of influence and interference in the election. Messages that posed as Black lives matter groups discouraged voting. In Detroit, there was some ballot-counting confusion, late opening polling locations, and machine breakdowns. All of this may have affected the 2016 outcome. However, as my grandmother would say, “the half has never been told.”
In March of 1965, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), lead by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), lead by John Lewis, organized for voting rights using the backdrop of Selma, Alabama. They never organized with the expectation that local clerks would have a heart and change their draconian laws. They organized to force the federal government to intercede. Federal intervention to protect elections and secure voting rights are why John Lewis marched across the Edmund Pettus bridge. Over 50 years later, that same intervention is waning.
As a local civil rights leader, I typically get a call from the United States Department of Justice during presidential elections. It is a quick check-in, “here is my number,” “We will be on the ground,” “If there are any irregularities, please contact us immediately.” This year I have not received that call. I expect that this year, the DOJ’s priority is less concerned about protecting the election and more concerned about defending or bringing a challenge to the election. That legal challenge I expect to come from the very place where we typically call for federal intervention, the United States Department of Justice.
Herein is why I’m worried. For years voting rights and civil rights advocates have depended on the United States Department of Justice and the United States Federal Courts to protect and dispense justice in the case of polling location time extensions, ballots that need recounting, or even the need for protection against violence. They are the people’s lawyer and peoples court, and its functions enforce the constitution and protect citizens’ rights. Nevertheless, this year we have a conservative stacked court and a DOJ that went through great pains to protect the president during the Russian investigation. So I ask myself this year, should I have any faith that if things go off the tracks, there will be justice issued by the federal government? Unlike the past, when the civil rights community could call on folks like assistant Attorney General John Doar, this time, we are left with no federal support to protect us from obstruction and confusion. Not receiving that phone call so close to the election displays the DOJ priorities aren’t focused on upholding its over 50-year tradition of protecting democracy for all. Their mission may be focused on ramping up for a legal challenge with legal pleadings that say: The People vs. the State or city “that sent out absentee ballots.” Trump, the king of dog-whistling, has already said, “there are many election irregularities, and we keep finding them all over the place.” These words I believe, are code for placing the ball on the tee, so the Supreme Court can hit the ball the minute the DOJ trouts out a dead person who received a ballot and voted unsolicited.
In the State I live in, a group of Michigan militiamen plotted to kidnap governors. Gun rights advocates and anti COVID19 stay at home protestors storm the State of Michigan Capital building. In Charlottesville, Virginia, protestors turned into a mob of white supremacy. All over the country, protestors march in cities for police reform while the president flies around, shouting law and order. To make matters worse, COVID19 is disproportionately affecting people of color elevated by Health Disparities. The job market is dim, and the economic bubble is on the verge of busting. The world we live in today concerns me. I am not concerned because I am worried about whether my candidate will win. The election will be challenged regardless of who wins. Unfortunately, in 2020, I am more afraid that our once well-known source of help in federal intervention will be the instigator of confusion.
VOTE! GIVE THEM NO ROOM TO CHEAT!