Voter Rights Issues: The Importance of Progressive Southerners Coming Together

Voting rights have emerged as a crucial issue, again.  In the 2012 election, many issues regarding voter rights emerged across the United States. These issues are continuing to grow, and the groups that have the most at stake with new voting requirement laws are the most vulnerable, those who perhaps need to express their electoral voice the most. What I want to discuss today is not so much the idea of the voting rights, but, rather, the issue of regional privilege and power within the South. It is time for southern progressives to come together and build each other up in the fight for a Blue South.

Last Tuesday, many people gathered in Raleigh, North Carolina to fight against the legislature’s proposed voter identification measures. The new measures would ensure that all voters would need photo identification at the voting booth. While North Carolina has been grappling with this issue for a while, North Carolinians are paying attention to the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder.Shelby County is pressing the Supreme Court to rule that sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional so that it can maintain voter identification laws. Section four focuses on voting rights of those with limited comprehension of English. Section five focuses on areas of the country with a history of voter suppression. These areas must submit any electoral changes to the Department of Justice or the District Court of the District of Columbia for approval.  The Supreme Court has been holding hearings for this case. This case will set a precedent regarding future voter ID laws in the South, an area with a steep history in voter suppression.

Yes, the Voting Rights Act is paramount in importance in the South. While the opposition contends that the stipulations of this act are “outdated” and that voter suppression is no longer an issue, the mere existence of these legislative measures indicates that this act is not outdated and voter suppression is still alive. Laws such as that in Alabama would affect some of the most vulnerable populations, especially those with low socio-economic incomes who lack privileges. Many blog posts and opinion pieces have been written about the social implications of these voter ID laws. What I wish to turn our attention towards, instead, is the atmosphere surrounding such ID laws. When Alabama passed its law, I heard many comments from friends from other states in the South and from states in other regions along the sentiment of “Well, it’s Alabama. Are you really surprised?” Now, North Carolina and other states must be invested in the Supreme Court decision regarding Shelby County, Alabama.

People who I knew, on the whole, were not enraged about this Alabama law. People were not writing, communicating, and sharing information about it. I felt like many people in Alabama were either unaware or equally unsurprised. These sentiments are problematic on many levels. If we as southern progressives do not pay attention to Alabama and help progressives in Alabama when such legislation arises, we are not helping our own cause. Now as North Carolinian legislators await this decision to push through their own voter ID law, I wonder what connections could have been made if North Carolinians were as concerned with Alabama before the state directly affected them. When we do not pay attention to our neighboring states in our region in the South, we are not working to strengthen ourselves. In the South, we must come together. Progressive people must work to turn the whole South blue, not just their town or county or state. We also need to reconsider some of our rhetoric regarding regional hierarchies.

When I would tell people in North Carolina that I was planning to attend graduate school at The University of Alabama, the response would often be “Alabama?! Do you really want to go to school there?” When I moved to Alabama, I would hear Alabamians quip “Well, at least we’re not Mississippi.” I will fully disclose here from a personal perspective that I do love North Carolina, and, after graduation, I intend to move back there. It is home to me in many ways, and many differences do exist between the two states, despite being in the same geographical region. People can be proud of their home states and appreciate their home states without denigrating other states in the process, though.

Statements of establishing a hierarchy between states often do more harm than good. Such remarks break us down instead of build us up as progressive people working towards building a Blue South.  When we work together across the South to organize, share ideas, and plan together, we can learn from one another. We can strengthen one another. We cannot leave a state behind when progressives are fighting in every corner of the South. Our states may differ and our fights may look different, but it is time to pay attention to our progressive folks who are fighting the good fight.

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