I am so glad the whole white supremacy and gun nut narratives are over, so we can get back to the one about voter suppression. Those horrific shootings late last month diverted our attention away from what President Joe Biden has called “Jim Crow on steroids,” namely the recent controversial voting reform legislation passed in Georgia and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp.
It was troubling to have the story of racist GOP politicians destroying the franchise be eclipsed by the story of racist GOP politicians targeting minority populations, or the equally compelling story of racist GOP politicians making sure crazy people had enough guns to kill all good Americans. While those are interesting in their own way and get a lot of mileage on networks like CNN and MSNBC, and while they are fodder for a lot of conversation on social media, you can never get enough of a good “Let’s keep the folk we don’t like from voting!” story. Those “Jim Crow on steroids” sidewinders only come around once every generation, so you have to enjoy them while you can.
Okay, tongue now safely out of cheek. While I might not be the worthy successor of Jonathan Swift, I do think it’s important to have a good sense of the ridiculous these days. The fact that our president insists on telling us that we have been catapulted back to the times of water hoses, crosses on fire and KKK klavens at polling places is a sign of just how delusional we’ve become.
Anyone who has actually read the almost 100 pages of the Georgia law would know that it is not an attempt to keep Black voters from voting. It is not akin to the KKK roadblocks that my father encountered in Mississippi in 1967. It is not anywhere near as egregious as the murder of Viola Liuzzo, a white woman assassinated by the Klan in Alabama because she was accompanying Black friends to the airport after a voting rights rally. It doesn’t come close to creating the atmosphere on the Edmund Pettus bridge, the site of the late John Lewis’ near fatal beating. It simply doesn’t measure up to being “Jim Crow on steroids.”
I think that phrase is what angered me the most. Joe Biden tried to play politics, a game at which he’s expert, when he compared what Georgia did to what happened during the 1950s and 60s. The reason I felt that rage is because so many people who were born after Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner were murdered and thrown into a Philadelphia, Miss., ditch will take what the president is saying at face value. The sort of folk who get their news in tweets and social media spasms might actually believe that forcing someone to bring their own water to stand in a voting line is a human rights violation. They have no first-hand memory of crowds mowed down by Bull Connor’s water hoses, more powerful and at least as damaging as pepper spray. They’d have to google the name “Medgar Evers” to realize that needing some form of readily available ID to cast a vote is not the same thing as getting gunned down in your driveway. They like the poetry of Amanda Gorman, their generation’s Maya Anjelou, appreciate the stylized words of woke rappers like Common, and love the music played on a loop (Rise up, Rise up!) on the saccharine promos of self-interested cable networks.
They think they are warriors because of the things they post on Tik Tok and Instagram, and the elders on the left let them think that they are part of a movement as big and as great as what came before.
And now they have a president telling them that Jim Crow is back, and better than ever. Or bigger than ever. Or whatever he needs to say to get people to love him, and hate his predecessor.
The problem is that when you actually read the law and its provisions, you will see that nothing in it comes close to destroying the right to vote. In some cases it makes it more inconvenient when, for example, it limits the number of drop boxes you can have, or reduces the amount of time within which to request an absentee ballot. In other cases, it actually allows the state to increase the hours polls can be kept open, a provision that has gotten very little attention by the industrial grievance complex. Early voting, and Sunday voting, is also expanded in some cases under the new legislation.
But the focus has been on the sexy parts of the law, the parts that pundits can point to and say, “See, they want to silence us!” The perennial fight over whether voters should be forced to provide ID is highlighted as being, what some critics suggested in a CNN column “disproportionately likely to burden Black voters.”
Of course, no one ever has a good explanation why that’s the case. The law provides for at least six alternative forms of identification, from Social Security numbers to driver’s licenses to utility bills. Georgia is not requiring, as far as I know, proof that someone holds a hereditary title or a DNA test.
Yes, my tongue is back in my cheek. When you really look at what Georgia did, the wailing from critics rings hollow. More importantly, and as I mentioned on social media, Joe Biden’s suggestion that this is anything like Jim Crow is akin to peeing on the graves of the murdered boys of Mississippi.
You can question why Georgia made the changes it did, and look for a sober discussion of the facts.
But the ghosts of Mississippi and Alabama, among them a fellow named Ted Flowers, will haunt your waking hours if you dare suggest that Mr. Crow is still around.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a Delaware County resident. Her column appears Sunday and Thursday. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.