We are in an election year. On September 14th Wisconsin voters will go to the ballot box to choose which candidates they want for the political party of their choice. The candidates who win the most votes of their party will square off with the finalists of opposing political parties at the final, General Election on November 2nd.
So, given the fact that many eligible voters don’t vote in the United States, it’s worth asking: why are elections important?
If elections weren’t important, there wouldn’t be such a long history of violent disenfranchisement to deny the vote to the poor, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, immigrants, Native Americans, women, and youth.
The history of voting rights: a history of struggle
At the beginning of the nation’s European settlement, only white men who owned property were allowed to vote or run for political office.
Race and national origin were used to disenfranchise groups of people, justify exploitative conditions, and undermine working class solidarity.
The 1790 Naturalization Law explicitly stated that only “free white” immigrants could become naturalized US citizens.
After the Civil War, the Fifteenth Amendment passed, in which “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
Following a period of progress, in which African Americans registered to vote in massive numbers and were elected to political office, a cynical political compromise between northern and southern politicians, resulted in the establishment of Jim Crow laws (racial segregation) in the South and political disenfranchisement for African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans and others through a variety of ways that included violence, economic retaliation, property qualification laws, literacy tests, poll taxes, and fraud.
For example, in Louisiana, by 1900 fewer than 5,000 African-Americans were registered to vote, down from a high of 130,000 in the years following the Civil War.
For Mexican-Americans in the Southwest, this period follows a similar history of exclusion following the Mexican-American war in 1848, in which half of Mexico’s territory became the present-day southwest in the United States. Though Mexicans who remained in the territories conquered by the U.S. were supposed to have become full U.S. citizens, they were denied the vote through violence and state “voter eligibility” laws.
Women did not achieve the right to vote till 1920, after 72 years of struggle.
The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 declared all non-citizen Indians born within the United States to be citizens, giving them the right to vote. Despite passage of the Indian Citizenship Act, the right to vote was still governed by state law, and many Native Americans were effectively barred from voting until 1948.
Asian immigrants and their US born children faced exclusion to US citizenship till 1952 when all remaining Asian exclusion acts were replaced by the immigration “quota system”.
The Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965, outlawed discriminatory voting practices. This victory was achieved by the civil rights struggle which organized marches, boycotts, and faced violent repression and jail to challenge second class citizenship.
Later expansions to the amendment included the rights of Limited English speakers and people with disabilities.
In 1970, following the Vietnam War, the voting age was reduced from 21 to 18, as a result of student and veteran protestors who argued that if they were old enough to be drafted into war they were old enough to vote.
The 21st Century: Let’s not turn back the clock
Voting rights for the poor and discriminated have come as a result of tremendous struggle, massive protests, marches, boycotting, even deaths. They are not to be taken lightly. We stand on the shoulders of previous generations, and it is our obligation to defend those hard-won gains and to build on their achievements for future generations.
Today, we see that same opposition, in the previous administration’s decision to make the US naturalization test more difficult and expensive and in recent calls by some politicians to repeal the 14th amendment which would deny citizenship to the US born children of undocumented parents.
Even in our current immigration system, while not explicitly racially exclusive, has unrealistically low numbers of visas for families from certain countries where there is the greatest trade (such as Latin America and Asia), and people have to wait up to 10 years to adjust the status of a close family member.
If we have the privilege to vote, as US citizens, then we must be a voice for those that are currently excluded and marginalized.
We must vote for pro-immigrant candidates, and candidates that best represent the interests of working people, civil rights, and education rights. We should support progressive candidates that are not self-motivated and career-minded; but will vote on sound principles.
The electoral process is one piece, but not the whole piece of how we achieve social change.
Outside of the ballot box, economic boycotts, workplace organizing, mass protests, direct action, building alliances, all of these strategies have achieved social and economic reforms. In 2006, it was mass protests that defeated Wisconsin Sensenbrenner’s HR 4437, not legislative action.
In 2010, we cannot allow anti-immigrant politicians to gain ground in this election cycle and we must defend the rights we have achieved, such as in-state tuition for immigrant students in the State of Wisconsin.
We cannot allow Wisconsin to become Arizona and we must organize to stop the deportations, separation of families, and increased racial profiling of Latinos.
In this edition Voces de la Frontera Action (c4), a membership arm of Voces de la Frontera (c3) that involves members in advocacy on legislation, lobbying, and electoral politics, is pleased to provide the first round of endorsements for the September 14th Primary. The second round of endorsements for the Primary Election will appear in our next issue.
We invite you to join us on August 21 at 10am at our Milwaukee office to start engaging voters for the upcoming election. Get informed, get involved and as our state logo, “forward!”
This post is also available in: Spanish