Bigotry seemed to rear its ugly head and prevail again in Mississippi as the long battle by the political right to place a burden on the voting rights of Blacks in the state passed by a significant margin. So where was the state’s Black leadership on the issue?
Expected was a loud outcry in the time leading up to the election by a chorus of state interest groups opposed to the initiative if not by national groups. But the Delta region of the State down through the Piney Woods area and even along the Mississippi Gulf Coast were eerily silent in the year, months, weeks and even days leading up to the election. The Mississippi Democratic Party was most silent of all, except for the last days before the election, as if gripped by the fear of losing votes for speaking out in favor of Voter ID.
Small pockets of interested people fueled the dialogue in opposition to voter ID in local communities around the State, but such conversations were not enough to light the fire needed to spread the urgency of the matter across the embattled State of Mississippi. After all, Mississippi has a sordid history of racial injustice, the poll tax not being the least of these. And passage of voter ID, a 21st century neo-poll tax, is something conservative Republicans hold up as a banner of progress. But, progress which way?
Most disappointing of all is the idea that after the fact, interest groups that are normally in the trenches to protect voting rights now whimper the possibility of a challenge to voter ID at the Justice Department level and in the courts. The question becomes where were you on the front end of this battle? Why is it always the reactionary strategy? When will we summon up or even re-engage proven strategies from a past time, some of the same strategies now being used by Conservative Mississippi to create excitement around issues that threaten other people’s freedoms?
Leadership must be reevaluated in the State of Mississippi, Black leadership included. Truly, it hasn’t arrived, yet, contrary to any post-racial belief. Leadership is tough on best days and requires continuing assessment of the issues and commitment protecting the best interest of our people. Are we bringing up a new generation of committed leaders?
There are many strong organizations still in existence in my home state that do a decent job in continually working to guard against civil rights infringements. It may be that leadership is overloaded with matters they have determined to be more demanding of attention and resources. It could also be that we have been lulled into a dangerous euphoria because of the new hue in the White House while not paying attention to the conservative storm brewing around the country. And maybe the President is being challenged in a way that no other Presidency has experienced – and not because of his party affiliation. Why are we not taking the battle to all conservative fronts? We cannot afford to be battle weary. We have fought to hard and too long to accomplish the little we have and must summon the strength to hold on to it while, at the same time, gaining new ground.