When many people think of Mississippi today, they see a beautiful state known for its hospitality and big open fields in the delta along with its blues music. Racism may cross their minds, reflecting back to “Mississippi Burning.” It is a place that looks peaceful with a few mom and pop stores along the way that people love, though. Let’s not forget the Mississippi Gulf-Coast area where tourists delight themselves in the atmosphere of gambling while they are shopping at strip malls and wondering why such a small Bible-belt state would even consider stuff like burning crosses. Nonetheless, they seem to love it.
But, on their drive through Mississippi’s open fields to Memphis, TN, folks might also want to think about “open primaries.” Yes: it would be nice to have open primaries since nothing else quite works. Independent voters are tired of the same old politics and want reform. There is a violation of folks’ constitutional rights when they are shut out of “open primaries” because Democrats and Republicans say “choose me.” The parties recognize the power of the Indies, but refused to acknowledge the fact that they are not the only and true way to reforming our broken government.
Mississippi can truly benefit from having another point of view – especially with a solution needed for its high rate of poverty. Not only would more people go to the polls because now they have a voice, but more people would get involved in politics or at least have a better understanding of the process.
One Independent Activist and Voter, Marla Nottingham of Brookhaven, MS, felt the election blues and decided she would petition for voters to have the right to vote in “open primaries” as Independents and vote for a politician of their choice whether Independent, Democrat or Republican. In 4 days Marla gathered 1,500 signatures in her home town. This may be part of the problem and why so many people fail to even go to the polls. That’s coupled with the fact that some people refuse to because of the mentality that their votes don’t count. Well, there might be some truth to that especially if you can’t vote as an Independent and pick a party of your choice.
Marla ran into much opposition with her petition. She was told she needed to get an attorney to advise her, as well as go through a long drawn out process that entails getting more signatures. If unsuccessful, she couldn’t file again for “open primaries” for another two years.
Talk about a voter shut out! This is first-hand experience of what happens when you try and give the people tools for expressing their democratic wishes. You come up against every barrier imaginable, including hurdles against voter-advocated reform on the ballot without the legislature approving it.
Democrats and Republicans have used the Voter ID issue to play lip-service to voting rights on opposite ends of the spectrum, but they don’t seriously engage it as a process issue. The parties (in this case the Republican Party) are in a position to enact these kinds of laws because they control the process.
Not to mention a state like Mississippi that has very few allies for the poor. The state NAACP is more concerned with organizing annual formal balls and extravaganzas, showing no real leadership since the 1960s. Of course, we are thankful for the folk that help move the civil rights movement along. But, today, the group fails to meet people’s needs in a timely manner – they always show up, but never come through as they should on a high profile level where it counts. That means focusing as much on reforming the process to ensure Black voter turnout as they do on raising money for awards dinners. Get out the vote should be a year round event. No one can blame the “White man” for that one.
I guess soon we will all have to go back to those “we shall overcome marches” to see real results from real leadership. Hopefully the Voter ID issue can be resolved while at the same time Independent voters’ voices can be heard in “open primaries.” There’s nothing wrong with another perspective. Independent Voters made a difference in the 2008 Presidential Election and will have an even greater impact in the 2012 Presidential Election, as well.