Charles Pierce weighs in on arguably the most important speech last night in the grand scheme of things: that of civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia on the GOP war on minority voting.
John Lewis gave a speech on Thursday night, in the first hour of the convention, that almost nobody saw, which is too bad, because it summed up the great unmentioned subtext of this year’s election — namely, that, between the new torrents of money that are overwhelming the system, and the rise again of voter-suppression legalisms in the various states, which are in many cases products of those same new torrents of money, the election is coming perilously close to becoming a puppet show. The Republicans didn’t mention that, because they have taken in so much of the new money, and because Republican governors and legislators in the various states are behind the new voter-suppression laws, and everybody knows that. The Democrats are caught in a bind, because they have to play in the new universe of campaign finance, too, and because they’re trying to keep up with a symphony of well-financed propaganda that seeks to make voter-suppression into a good-government initiative. John Lewis is not fooled. John Lewis has seen this before. And John Lewis told the convention what he’s seeing rising in the country out of his own past.
Black, white, brown…the new color of privilege is green, certainly. When a man who has paid his dues in blood and sweat and pain like he has, when he tells you he sees the nightmares of his past in the plastic smiles and saccharine logic of the Republican party, when tell you he sees the old, bloody ghosts leading the carnival of horrors, summoned by the pious mewling of “voter integrity”…yeah, you sit next to the man and learn.
Brothers and sisters, do you want to go back? Or do you want to keep America moving forward? 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. The Republican leader in the Pennsylvania House even bragged that his state’s new voter ID law is “gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state.” That’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s not just. And similar efforts have been made in Texas, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina. 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.
[UPDATE] The speech.