My high school civics teacher, Mrs. Hart, loved to describe in glorious detail how the local, state and national governments worked. She emphasized the importance of citizens letting their voices be heard by voting and speaking up at governmental meetings.
She enlisted us in discussions about what we thought were the good things and the shortcomings of the government. These were meaningful, intellectual conversations for 15- and 16-year-olds. I loved Mrs. Hart’s class.
I wonder what she would say now about leaders in local and state governments — with the federal government cheering them on — trying to make it difficult for the poor, people of color and Democrats to vote.
The acts are called voter suppression, a phrase never mentioned in Mrs. Hart’s class. That’s because in prior years to her class, folks heard about voters hung, voters shot, voters being fired from their jobs, and voters' houses burned.
Now voter suppression comes in the form of broken and missing voting machines, or voting precincts suddenly closed, resulting in thousands of Black and mostly Democratic voters scrambling to one voter precinct where five or six are needed.
Mrs. Hart would be stunned by Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott ordering counties to collect mail-in ballots at only one location, knowing that the restriction would disproportionally impact low-income voters, voters with disabilities, older voters and especially voters of color in giant population centers like Harris County, which includes Houston.
When all else fails there is the effort to purge disproportionate numbers of Black voters from the voter rolls shortly before elections, or make it difficult to register online.
“The current times are just as frightening as the moments of the civil rights movement that I studied as a teenager,” said state Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge. “The right to vote is under attack in this country and our state. If the right to vote wasn’t important, conservatives wouldn’t be working so hard to take it away.”
Here’s something else. If you listen closely, you can hear crickets coming from many of the so-called good-government groups in our communities. They bang drums about the ideals that built this American democracy, but on this issue they are huddled next to the church mouse. They are complicit by their silence.
I wonder if our schools are dealing with this issue? If this were happening under Mrs. Hart’s watch, I think she would have shelved the lesson plan for that day or two, and there would have been real-life, important dialogue in her class.
Mrs. Hart would have sprinkled into the conversation the heavy price that Blacks paid to vote. The hangings, beatings, burnings, shootings and intimidation. Her blue eyes would have glistened as the conversation brewed. Mrs. Hart was a white teacher in my high school that had only one white student at the time.
I suggest to local teachers of American government, or civics, if such a class still exists, that in the next couple days that you have dialogue about the anti-American, anti-Constitution evils of voter suppression. You can Zoom it.
Do it at magnet schools. Do it at the regular public schools and at the charter schools. Show the students that there are people who abide by this country’s motto: e pluribus, unum — “out of many, one.” And there is another group who live by e pluribus, unum, non autem illis — “Out of many, one, but not them.”
Mrs. Hart would be heartened, though, to talk to the young Black woman @xomadimo who tweeted earlier this week “8.5 HOURS is how long I stood in line to VOTE. i don’t wanna hear one excuse!” And by the Black man @johntalsr who tweeted “Now at 11hrs in line but we are next! A long journey but wouldn’t be anywhere else! Please vote everyone!”
Teachers, show your students how Russia and China are reveling in the slow dismantling of what makes America so different and better than them. If the vote, that great thing that makes us different, is willingly ripped from some of us, then they have us.
I think that’s something Mrs. Hart would say.