Local activists, clergy and community organizers joined together on Memorial Day to hold a mock funeral and mourn the death of democracy. The most recent setback, preceded by a series of almost unbelievable political and legal maneuvers, was the refusal of the Board of Canvassers to recognize more than 220,000 signatures that would have asked voters in November to weigh in on the emergency manager (EM) law.
The EM law, Public Act 4, currently allows the governor to take over financially distressed cities with the authority to dismiss elected officials and dispose of public assets with no oversight from citizens. The Consent Agreement the city has entered into, partially based on the EM law and the state’s financial mandates, will negatively impact Detroit’s elections. The Republican-led cuts will even hurt Detroit’s Department of Elections and Detroiters’ right to a functional election process. City Clerk Janice Winfrey says she may not be able to conduct elections in accordance with election law.
Public Act 4 is sneaky. It is activated under the guise of a financial emergency but is a setback for participation and denies public input over policy and resources for a number of cities that are disproportionately Black and/or Democratic. We believe that, ultimately, these efforts will disenfranchise people who have a historic, vested interest in the fight for democracy and representation.
At the Memorial Day ceremony, libations were poured for the ancestors who have died for democracy, the right to vote during the civil rights movements and before. The ability to vote and direct public dollars will soon only belong to those who can afford it or who haven’t been negatively or systematically affected by the economy. This is directly what our ancestors fought against.
The Michigan-based, Republican-led effort to kill democracy is not unrelated to a national voter suppression effort. In Florida — a state made famous in 2000 by political hijinks and hanging chads — Gov. Rick Scott has directed the state’s election department to purge voter rolls before November. Thirteen states passed, or have plans to pass, restrictive voting laws, which largely affect Blacks, minorities, women and young people.
There was a time when only white men could vote. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Blacks en masse could vote. We are regressing despite technological innovation that allows us to bank online but restricts voting to Tuesdays and only when the polls are open. In Pennsylvania, Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old grandmother who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is fighting for her right to vote — again. Although she has voted in numerous elections for decades, she was recently denied the right to vote because she doesn’t have a driver’s license and the state cannot find her birth certificate.
In 2007, the Michigan Supreme Court upheld the photo ID law here. Citizens must present an ID at the polls. Organizers against PA4 should join others across the nation in suing to reverse the photo ID law. In South Carolina, citizens are calling it a poll tax as it costs $10 to get an ID. We should remove these preconditions for voting and remember that participation, from everyone, has from the perspective of history improved society, democracy and quality of life for everyone.