Democracy is on the ballot in 2020. Rev. Dr. Clyde Posley is senior pastor at Antioch Baptist Church. He is also a scholar and long-time activist who is leading “Souls to the Polls,” which is a major get-out-the-vote effort. My friend and colleague Marshawn Wolley argued in a recent column that Black folks focus a great deal on voter registration, but not enough on actually getting out the vote. Dr. Posley is trying to change that.
As a reminder, Dr. Posley and I joined four other community leaders to host the inaugural “Strong Men, Strong Minds Rally” on Aug. 8. Thus, I was thrilled when he asked the group to support Souls to the Polls. Blacks’ right to vote, which we have been guaranteed only since 1965, was paid for with our parents’ and grandparents’ blood. We have a solemn responsibility to honor that sacrifice.
Souls to the Polls is a coalition of churches that will transport voters to the City-County Building so they can vote early. It will take place every Saturday and Sunday from Oct. 10 until Election Day. When I asked Posley why he is organizing this effort, he said, “There is strength in unity. It is commonly understood that, when we work together — even when we otherwise disagree — we can accomplish anything. God Himself confirms this in Genesis (Chapter) 11.”
For virtually the entirety of our nation’s history, the Black church has been the strongest and most stable institution of, by and for African Americans. Our churches around the country have organized to fight voter suppression. Doing so is not only an act of patriotism; it has often been a life-or-death act of defiance.
Decades ago, southern Democrats used every means at their disposal — including illegal and violent ones — to keep Blacks from voting. The opposite is true today. Republicans close polling places and limit voting hours in heavily Black areas, cancel Sunday voting implement strict voter ID laws, purge hundreds of thousands of voters from their rolls, disallow same-day registration, and engage in a wide variety of other voter suppression efforts. Such tactics have replaced literacy tests and grandfather clauses — but voters must still sometimes stand in line for five hours or more. That’s not all.
A new law in Florida amounts to a poll tax. Despite two-thirds of the electorate deciding to restore voting rights to former felons who had served their time, the Republican-controlled legislature (and their governor) passed a law which states that former felons cannot vote unless they pay all fines that were related to their incarceration. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg paid $16 million to cover the fees of 30,000 returning citizens — most of whom are Black or Latino. However, Florida’s attorney general requested an investigation, suggesting that Bloomberg’s nonpartisan gesture is tantamount to a “bribe.”
Worse still, the 1965 Voting Rights Act itself is under assault. The Supreme Court, via its ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, encouraged states and jurisdictions that have historically suppressed Black voters to pass restrictive voter ID laws. In her dissent in the Shelby case, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg famously stated, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
As a direct result of Shelby, nearly half of all states have created new obstacles to voting, according to the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition. For example, in 2018 the Georgia Senate passed bills that cut voting hours in Atlanta — where Blacks are 54% of the population. They also restricted early voting on weekends. The latter measure was seen by many as an attempt to target events like Souls to the Polls. Fortunately, the state assembly eventually defeated both bills.
Still, those who believe in equality continue to fight back. For example, the Department of Justice and civil rights groups successfully sued to overturn a North Carolina law that, according to a federal judge, disenfranchised Black voters with “almost surgical precision.”
As you can see, the odds are stacked against us. We have a president who openly discourages the democratic process — and has repeatedly threatened not to accept the election results. Our nation fails voters by not making Election Day a national holiday. We need every soul who can get to the polls to do so. Democracy hangs in the balance.
Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.