It Ain't Broke By Ernie Spisak
At 9:00 p.m. Sunday, March 7, 1965, 48 million Americans tuned in to watch ABC’s Sunday evening movie. On their black and white screens, they watched an American strolling along the half deserted streets of a small foreign town, ravaged by a not so distant war. Curious, the gray-haired Judge Haywood entered the town’s empty auditorium. Standing alone, here he heard the echoes of the decades old nationalistic speeches by government officials. The echoes of the town’s citizens cheering the hateful rhetoric astounded the judge, for he knew of the results of such.
Spencer Tracy portrayed the gray-haired Judge Dan Haywood. The film depicts the true to life courtroom drama of four German Judges charged with war crimes during the Nazi reign of terror. On this early Spring evening, America viewed the results of racial discrimination and hatred in the TV premiere of the movie, Judgment At Nuremberg.
The movie ran for about 15 minutes, then for a split second, the screen went black. Suddenly, film footage of racial unrest in Selma, Alabama, replaced the story of the Aryan Nations inhumanity to man. Remember the camps, the showers, the ovens? Remember the 6,000,000 dead bodies?
Around 2:00 p.m., on this Sunday, John Lewis and Reverend Hosea Williams led 600 African-Americans on a voters registration protest march. They planned to march the 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery.
After crossing the William Pettus Bridge, 150 riot-clad Alabama State Troupers confronted the marchers. The Troopers ordered the marchers to turn around. The marchers held their ground.
Within seconds, the first wave of troupers rushed into the marchers, beating the marchers with Billy clubs. Bleeding, men and women fell to the ground. From the ranks of the troopers came volleys of tear gas, then the mounted cops raced into the screaming marchers, trampling the panicking protestors.
For approximately 20 minutes, American’s watched the racial discrimination and hatred of America unfurl before its eyes. Historically, the beatings on the William Pettus Bridge became known as Bloody Sunday. At the end, seventeen marchers, including John Lewis now a U. S. Congressman, were hospitalized. Without violence, Dr. King led two more voting rights marches. Citizens, outraged at what they saw, voiced their displeasure via letters and phone calls to the White House.
On August 6, 1965, President Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act.
“The Act prohibits states from imposing any voting qualifications or prerequisite to voting, or standard practice, or procedure…to deny or abridge the right of any citizens of the United States to vote on account of race or color .”
Wednesday, March 7, 2012, marked the 47th year anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday.” The Voting Rights Act of 1965 turns 47 years old this August. As of the 2010 mid-term elections, 37 states, including Pennsylvania, have introduced or have passed legislation requiring citizens to present a state photo identification voting card. Without such a card citizens cannot vote. These newly elected Governors and Legislators claim rampant voting fraud is the reason for such laws. Remember what the Voting Act Law condemns. If in fact voter fraud is out of control, then something must be done to eliminate it. Remember, Americans have been beaten and killed fighting for this basic right.
Listen! Listen to our history. In 1964, three voting rights activists, James Chaney – an African American, and two white men - Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were murdered by Klansman in Philadelphia Mississippi. On February 26, 1965, an Alabama State Trooper shot and killed a young black man, Jimmie Lee Jackson after Jackson attended a voting rights demonstration. Two Klansmen, on March 11th beat the Reverend Reeb with baseball bats. Reeb, one of hundreds of white pastors, marched with King on the second march. The Reverend died of his wounds. In late March, gunmen shot and killed Mrs. Viola Liuzzo, a mother from Detroit, as she drove several African Americans back to Selma after the last march to Montgomery. These are the names of only a few Americans who gave the last full measure to assure the voting rights of all Americans.
In this vein, if our system of voting is broken, then it must be fixed. However, the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law suggests there is no creditable evidence of a voter fraud epidemic. The Center reports voter fraud occurs only 0.0009 percent of the time. Brennan concluded that the proposed ID laws could make it almost impossible for 5,000,000 eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.
On Wednesday, March 14th Pennsylvania’s Governor signed into law the State’s Photo Identification law. Based on reports from the Fair Elections Legal Network, there is no evidence of individuals attempting to impersonate voters in Pennsylvania. According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, the state would spend 11,000,000 dollars to prepare and distribute these cards. When implemented, the new law would stop 18% of Senior Citizens, 25% of African-Americans, and 15% of low-income working class citizens from voting. In general, this new law will disenfranchise 800,000 eligible Pennsylvania voters.
So, on Wednesday, March 14, 2012 a gray-haired man walked into the empty Legislative Halls in Harrisburg. Standing alone, after 47 years, why did he hear the echoes coming from the William Pettus Bridge? I know, do you?