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john lewis

John Lewis

Civil rights workers Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman were released from the Philadelphia (Mississippi) jail by deputy sheriff Cecil Price around 10:30 PM the night of June 21st, 1964 after being held five or six hours. What they didn’t know is that Price had set them up for an ambush further up lonely Route 19 as they headed back to Meridian. 

Few things have changed since the recent political conventions. Romney continues opening his mouth with two results: the lies are coming out and the foot is going in. The feverish attempt to make some political hay out of the recent Cairo and Benghazi embassy attacks - and resultant murder of American diplomats and Marines - landed in the same ballpark as some of the greater presidential campaign horrors of all time – right up there with daddy George Romney’s own “I was brainwashed” 45 years ago. The difference between father and son gaffes, are, of course, senior Romney was telling the truth. Son Romney, as usual, lied.

The reason for the flailing and unpresidential remarks on an international event that was still breaking is blatant: after the Democratic convention, aided by a stirring string of oratories by Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama, Julian Castro, Sandra Fluke, Jennifer Granholm, John Lewis, John Kerry and my personal favorite, Deval Patrick, President Barack Obama emerged as the clear favorite in all polls, in all polls within polls, in all swing states. “Democrats need to grow a backbone!" said Patrick. “… I will not stand by while Barack Obama is bullied out of the White House,” He continued with rising passion. “We can’t let SuperPacs tell us who is going to be our next President, or congressman. We’re Americans. We make our own decisions.”

chaney goodman schwermer

Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, Mickey Swermer

At an earlier campaign stop, Barack Obama said, in response to the crowd: “Don’t boo. Vote!”

Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman had come from New York to join the Freedom Summer project, specifically designed to help black Mississippi citizens register to vote. James Chaney was a CORE activist from Meridian. Deputy Price again pulled them over, but this time had two carfuls of local Klansmen with him. The three workers were placed in the back of the police car. One of the Klansmen, James Jordan, got into the passenger seat. They drove a few miles to a small side road.

Nobody, it seems, really likes Mitt Romney, or wants him to be President. He’s proven to be beyond mendacious, devoid of specific ideas. Similarly mendacious and ill equipped for the job is his running mate, Paul Ryan -- a virtual “mini Mitt”. His campaign and his super rich pals Adelson, Koch, Koch, and Rove et al. have spent tens of millions of Citizens United bucks in 10 swing states, saturating their airwaves with advertisements, yet he’s only lost ground. He is losing in polls on likability, foreign policy, and trust. He is losing heavily with women, and Latinos, yet is doubling down with the anti-women warriors and anti-immigrant stalwarts at the extreme of the Tea Party. And a recent poll among blacks shows him trailing Obama 94% to 0.


So one might ask, why is this man still smirking? Does he seriously expect to win?

Yeah. They can cheat. They can prevent Democrats from voting, especially those 94 to 0 black people in places like Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Richmond, Miami and Cleveland.

Here is John Lewis from the Democratic national convention:

"My dear friends, your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful, nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union. Not too long ago, people stood in unmovable lines. They had to pass a so-called literacy test, pay a poll tax. On one occasion, a man was asked to count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap. On another occasion, one was asked to count the jelly beans in a jar—all to keep them from casting their ballots. Today it is unbelievable that there are Republican officials still trying to stop some people from voting. They are changing the rules, cutting polling hours and imposing requirements intended to suppress the vote.”

Did you read that? “The most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.” The vote is sacred, yet at this vaunted Democratic convention, Lewis was pretty much the only one to underscore its being threatened. Obama made a passing mention. Bill Clinton, in his 45 minutes of captivation, did not.

The cars stopped on the lonely road. Schwerner, who had the specific hit ordered on him by Grand Dragon Sam Bowers of the local Klan, was pulled from the car first. Wayne Roberts put his left hand on Schwerner’s shoulder and shot him in the heart with a gun in his right. Goodman was the next to be pulled out of the car and shot dead. Chaney, the black man, was saved for last. He ran, but they caught him. He was beaten ferociously, then shot three times. The bodies were loaded into their station wagon. They were taken to a friendly farm, and buried at the site of a dam. They were covered with tons of dirt. This got the attention of the FBI. Informants cracked, and a semblance of justice was served. But this event led to the Voting Rights act of 1965, and Mississippi was led into the 20th century.

“Don’t boo. Vote,” said Barack Obama at a campaign rally. That’s right, the polls can be bubbling over with optimism, but will mean nothing if people don’t show up to vote. And they will mean nothing if people show up to vote, and can’t.

And so we come to Mitt and mini-Mitt’s last chance to win in 2012: stopping enough potential Democratic voters from voter. Or make it incredibly confusing just to register. Ohio Secretary of State John Hursted, born two years after the 1965 Voting Rights Act was signed into law, is typical of the gaggle of Republican Secretaries of State in key swing states in doing his best to thwart Democratic voting in Ohio. Many of the voters targeted for the infamous “Voter I.D.” laws and who will be most injured by the limitation of early voting days will be the elderly, the young, and minorities – mostly black. The Voter I.D. seems reasonable, and indeed such a law challenged in Indiana was upheld in 2008 – by Antonin Scalia and the Supreme Court. But the requirement to get this ID is often daunting, requiring birth certificates that are long lost, travel to department of motor vehicles offices, and the like. Hursted, executing a law passed by the legislature, says it’s all about combating “voter fraud”. But a guy in Philadelphia (not Mississippi, Pennsylvania this time) let the cat out of the voter suppression bag: Pennsylvania's House Majority Leader, Mike Turzai: “(Legislation requiring) Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done!”

Similarly, Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo, in 1944, declared "If the poll tax bill passes, the next step will be an effort to remove the registration qualification, the educational qualification of Negroes. If that is done we will have no way of preventing the Negroes from voting."

“On another occasion, a man was asked to count the number of jelly beans in a jar,” said John Lewis. And he would know.

john hursted

John Hursted

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Lewis was a civil rights hero long before he came into Congress. He was beaten and bloodied throughout the South, working with Martin Luther King and others, in his efforts to register mostly black voters. He and his coworkers were so thwarted by Sheriff Jim Clark in the city of Selma, Alabama, that he sought help from the greater civil rights movement. And so a protest march was organized to go from Selma to Montgomery. Part of that involved crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

On March 7, 1965—a day that would become known as "Bloody Sunday”– Lewis and others led over 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. They were met by police and state troopers. When the marchers stopped to pray, the police and mounted troopers charged the demonstrators, beating them with night sticks. A national television network broke away from presenting “Judgment at Nuremberg” (just to add to the irony), and broadcast the melee live before 60 million viewers.

Lewis's skull was fractured, but he escaped across the bridge, to a church in Selma. President Lyndon Johnson was moved to act. 

John Hursted of Ohio, 2012, no doubt following orders (no pun intended vis a vis the just mentioned Judgment at Nuremberg) first got attention as part of this disturbing widespread voter suppression scheme when he agreed to allow Republican-leaning counties to have early voting, and extended voting hours, but not the Democratic-leading counties. S

ince this seem even a more direct partisan scheme than Turzai of Pennsylvania copped to, Hursted was quickly compelled to correct this. He did. He cut back extended weekday voting for everybody, such a nonpartisan guy he is. But he still was determined to roll back the 3-day voting prior to Election Day.

Meanwhile, two Montgomery (Ohio this time) County officials voted to allow their voters to vote on weekends, since that wasn’t specifically precluded from Husted’s order. Hursted, ever the dutiful martinet, said they were violating his memo, and told them to stop interfering with his efforts. They refused, and, after a “hearing”, were fired.

And as for the rollback of voting the three days before election day, a federal judge said nonsense, that’s worked fine the last few years, rescind that order. Former Republican Senator Mike DeWine, now state attorney general, was determined to appeal this ruling. And Hursted refused to rescind it, in defiance of the judge. The judge slapped him back, and Hursted suddenly agreed to comply.

Such is the determination in this Koch Brothers / ALEC world to put a big thumb on the playing field (as if unlimited campaign contributions was not enough) But as Reverend Al Sharpton says the south’s Jim Crow has gone away but he has been re-emerged in disguise, gussied up as Jameson T. Crow, Esq. But with the same results as his ancestor.

President Johnson spoke to a joint session of congress to present the Voting Rights act of 1965: “Even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause, too, because it is not just Negroes but really it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.

Johnson purposefully used the civil rights movement anthem of “we shall overcome”. No doubt that was also the moment Richard Nixon hit upon the Southern Strategy for 1968. But that’s another story.

This voting rights act was not just the culmination of efforts of Lewis, and King, and so many others, nor the martyring of the three civil rights workers, but also the millions who gave their lives in World War II. And the culmination hasn’t culminated. The voter suppression is rampant in the United States this year. Ohio is burning, but so is Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Indiana, Virginia, Michigan. Colorado. Young white guy John Hursted perhaps should read some history, for he is taking on a rather awesome responsibility to nullify all that people fought and died for.

John Lewis, seeing a new battle in 2012 after hoping it had been won in the 60’s – like all the other battles being refought on other fronts this year: "I've seen this before. I've lived this before. Too many people struggled, suffered and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote. We have come too far together to ever turn back. So we must not be silent. We must stand up, speak up and speak out. We must march to the polls like never before."

Patricia Carroll, the black CNN camera person who had peanuts thrown at her at the Tampa Republican Convention, said: "I can't change these people's hearts and minds. This should be a wake-up call to black people. We were living in euphoria for a while. People think we've gone further than we have."

What we risk is the election of Grover Norquist’s dream generic president: one who has digits that can work a pen and sign what is placed in front of him by a Republican dominated congress. Is that focused greed goal worth trampling on the graves of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, defending our right to vote?

Oh you bet it is.

bob illes

“Agitate!” said Frederick Douglass, when asked by a young man about what to do to make the society a better place. “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!” 

Douglass was one of the first black fighters for civil rights, including voting rights – in the 19th century. Apparently, it doesn’t end.

Robert Illes

Republished from Valley Dems United newsletter, Margie Murray editor

Posted: Thursday, 13 September 2012