Everything I am about to tell you is important to what’s happening today: At the start of the summer of 1964, now forever known as the Freedom Summer, Bob Moses, a Black civil right activist, rallied hundreds of volunteers to Mississippi, most of them white college students, to help register Black Mississippians to vote. Throughout the summer, thousands of out-of-state volunteers banded together with Black Mississippians to fight against voter intimidation and discrimination.
While Black potential voters were the majority in many counties in the Delta, less than 7 percent of eligible Black Mississippians were registered to vote, according to the U.S Commission on Civil Rights. Black Americans faced shootings and hangings and cruel voter suppression tactics, such as poll taxes and guessing how many jelly beans were in a jar when they attempted to register.
The summer quickly turned deadly as white southerners unleashed a wave of terror against Black Mississippians and volunteers. By the end of the summer, “1,062 people were arrested, 80 volunteers were beaten, 37 churches were bombed or burned, four civil rights workers were killed, and at least three Mississippi African Americans were murdered because of their involvement in this movement,” according to the National Archives.
And in the wake of the violence, pressure mounted for the federal government to take action to protect the right to vote. In August of 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.
Decades later, the conservative-leaning Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, freeing states with a history of voter suppression tactics to return to their old ways.
Whether it’s poll taxes and literacy tests or voter ID laws, from the moment Black Americans were free, there have been efforts to keep us from voting. Even Georgia’s run-off election system, which will now determine the fate of the Senate election, is rooted in diluting Black power.
Prior to the midterm elections, Republicans passed an endless stream of draconian voter suppression bills. In Georgia and Florida, they banned giving out food and water in voting lines, which are (not by coincidence) notoriously long in Black neighborhoods.
And the Florida GOP is facing a lawsuit which alleges that they intentionally diluted the Black vote through racial gerrymandering. And in Arizona, heavily armed far-right mobs patrolled voting centers.
Republicans spent much of the last two years complaining endlessly that the election was stolen and that widespread voter fraud cost them the Presidency. This election-cycle Republicans have been surprisingly. Even election officials, who feared the worst after facing waves of baseless lawsuits over voter fraud, say things have been surprisingly peaceful.
But just because Republicans aren’t talking about fairness in the election this year, and have successfully shifted the narrative about our democracy to a conversation around voter fraud doesn’t mean we should join.
It is ok to question whether or not the Democratic process is truly fair in this country if, every few years, Republicans come up with new ways to suppress minority votes?
Too often voter suppression feels like a side-plot and not the fundamental road-block to a functioning democratic system that is and always has been.
And so the question everyone needs to be asking themselves isn’t just how do we rebut made-up claims about stolen elections, but what the hell are we going to do about a democratic system that’s been broken from the start.
More from The Root