Are you ready for the next big assault on Black civil rights? Are you aware that it is already underway, with the coup de grace planned for a few months before the 2022 elections?
If you remember the 1960s, what’s about to happen will not seem strange or impossible. The sixties began with the Civil Rights Movement still gaining strength. Black activists, organized and supported by motivated Black churches, had succeeded in opening White eyes to the evils of segregation, and were mounting increasingly integrated marches and other demonstrations aimed at further educating the nation.
In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed, and in 1965 an Act to protect Voting Rights. And as White students, parents and politicians learned about the horrors of legal segregation, Black leaders were also learning. Each ‘success’ of the Movement made ever more clear that symbolic triumphs like ending segregated drinking fountains and hotels and high school sports teams were necessary, but not sufficient. As long as hiring practices and pay disparities remained, integration would never mean equal. Black leaders and organizers saw the limitations of their successes, learned from what they saw, and moved on to confront economic injustice, as they had been confronting racial injustice.
But the response was different. Pleasant platitudes about improving racial equality were fine for big money interests. But campaigns for economic justice threatened to lead to higher wages, better working conditions, and above all, higher labor costs, which necessarily meant lower dividend checks. This new movement had to be stopped, at all costs!
And opportunity was at hand. 1960 film buffs had been taught by Spartacus that one way to deal with enemies was to divide them and conquer by pitting different interests against each other. Another way is to control information flow and accessibility.
As talk of Economic Justice started to build, the daily TV news coverage of Civil Rights Movement activities started to fade from the nightly news. News crews were shifted from the American South to Southeast Asia, and the “growing threat” posed by colonized peasants demanding U.S. style democracy. The three TV networks could pretend that Civil Rights were now established in the U.S. and attention could shift to a new “communist threat”, far away in exotic locations where the people protesting didn’t even speak English, and thus, could not easily correct the corporate friendly “explanations” by TV reporters.
Roberts will refocus women’s attention on a new, immediate problem, just as the Vietnam War divided both White students and Black job aspirants from the Civil Rights Movement.
At the same time, the shifting news could be terrifyingly disruptive to White student supporters of Black Civil Rights. It was easy to take a summer, while school was out, and go south to demonstrate, help organize, get out the vote, etc., and then go back to a safe dorm room when classes resumed in the fall. But getting drafted and shipped thousands of miles to a place where the protestors would be shooting at you, or tossing grenades into restaurants at dinnertime, was entirely different.
So high school students about to be drafted upon graduation, and college students, had to shift focus, immediately, to build a new movement to counter the new, more immediate threat. And black young men, who faced employment discrimination in the U.S., now found Pentagon recruiters offering them “job training” and pay for their first jobs higher than what some of their fathers earned on the plantation, even after decades of work. How hard a choice did they face?
One generation, facing disruption of their personal lives, or the promise of wealth beyond what anyone in their widest extended family had ever earned, were split from their own parents and grandparents who fought for principles, rather than fast dollars. And parents, who had sacrificed in WW-II to save the world from totalitarianism and then came home to help integration efforts, were split from their own children who didn’t see the risk of “global communism.”
Divide and conquer. And by the end of the 60s, the Civil Rights Movement was losing steam as its younger generation was provided with more pressing threats and with better financial promises, and so turned its attention away.
Watch it happen again during the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2021-2022 term.
In 1981, as the newly elected President Reagan started his administration, a young, white supremacist lawyer from Indiana took a job as a “Special Assistant” to Reagan’s Attorney General. In that year, his first year in the administration, the Special Assistant produced a 27-page legal memo explaining how a legal strategy could accomplish two of the Special Assistant’s passionate goals: Destroying the 1965 Voting Rights Act and overturning the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, outlawing school segregation.
The Special Assistant didn’t understand Reagan’s beliefs. He believed the campaign dog whistles to Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” fans, and ignored Reagan’s decades of Hollywood work with people of all colors and sexual orientations. Reagan ignored him.
So the Special Assistant worked in government obscurity, building network connections to other racists in government, until 2005, when Dick Cheney placed him on the U.S. Supreme Court, as Chief Justice John Roberts - still as racist as ever, and still committed to undo the Civil Rights progress of earlier decades.
Since being appointed Chief Justice, Roberts has succeeded in some of his long-term goals. He presided over the destruction of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and followed that with praise for race-based gerrymandering. He has supported every race-based voter suppression law to reach him yet, and has signaled an intention to approve all the REPUBLICAN voter suppression laws enacted since the 2020 election.
How does this recapitulate the 1960s? In his 1981 white supremacy memo, John Roberts mentions abortion rights a couple of times. In each reference, he refers to women’s right to abortions as a “fundamental right.” But this summer, the Roberts Court announced that it now has a Republican majority of justices in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade, ending that “fundamental right” and has accepted a case for this fall’s term which will allow the Court to do just that.
The Court is already committed to reviewing challenges to the new voter suppression laws. But a reversal of Roe v. Wade will draw women of all races into a new struggle over a right that Roberts used to call “fundamental.” With that simple decision, John Roberts will divide women from the voting rights issue. With an opinion announced next spring, that women no longer have the “fundamental right,” Roberts will refocus women’s attention on a new, immediate problem, just as the Vietnam War divided both White students and Black job aspirants from the Civil Rights Movement.
While the noble labors of Stacy Abrams, Swing Left, and other organizations work to motivate black voters to get out and vote, the Roe v. Wade reversal will suck press coverage of voting issues out of the media circus. And it will do so even as it sucks millions of women voters’ attention away from voting rights issues.
Some readers might object that the corporate “liberal media” has constantly praised John Roberts for his desire to restore the dignity of the Court and to restore it to the noble respect it had in the past. But such glib encomiums mean nothing without understanding what John Roberts wants to restore. What he wants to restore is the “dignity” the Court had in 1857, when Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote, “We think ... that [black people] are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word "citizens" in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time [of America's founding] considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them.” 60 U.S. @404-405.
Note that Taney did not say simply that Black people were not citizens. Rather he said that they were not humans, but “an inferior class of beings.” For life-long racist John Roberts, this is the key point. If Blacks are not humans, they can never have an equal right to voting or other civil rights.
And it must be noted that John Roberts’ joinders of opinions which grant the right to discriminate by people based on their religious beliefs all include language which is just as applicable to allowing racial discrimination or to anti-semitic discrimination.
Next year, as we head into the 2022 election cycle, the U.S. Supreme Court will adopt the life-long goals of Chief Justice John Roberts and rule in favor of increasing restrictions on voting by non-Whites and in favor of expanded “religious” rights to discriminate on the basis of race. And this will be done while distracting voters by reversing Roe v. Wade.