Winter in America and the Power of the Ballot

Fifteenth Amendment

Section 1

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude–

Section 2

The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Ratified on February 3, 1870, this Amendment to the United States Constitution, 5 years following the abolishment of slavery and 7 years prior to Jim Crow segregation was noticeably part of that check marked, insufficient funds.

Like a lion without teeth this landmark legislation had no bite and was largely ignored state to state until the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, nearly a hundred years later. 

The calculated force of racism/white supremacy created obstacles such as poll taxes, literacy tests, guessing the amount of jellybeans in a jar, the grandfather clause which only allowed people to vote if their grandfathers had been registered, and blatant acts of terrorism which included lynchings. 

In the winter of 1974 singer/poet/activist Gil Scott-Heron released the song “Winter in America,” which depicted a stalemate in the political and philosophical landscape of American society and the absence of the natural flow of the changing seasons. It was just more of the same song, the same issues, the same battles for equality and human rights, let alone civil rights. Some of his reflections were notably summarized in his lyrics:

The Constitution, a noble piece of paper

With free society

Well, they struggled but they died in vain

And now democracy is ragtime on the corners…

And I see the robins, yeah, perched in barren treetops

Watching last-ditch racists marching across the floor

And like the peace sign that filtered in our dreams

That never had a chance to grow…

Somebody want to go tell them it’s winter

It’s cold, it’s like winter in America

This nation, as it is known today, was officially birthed on a summer day on July 4, 1776. But the sun of that coveted Constitution did not shine on people not classified as “white.” There was no warm welcome of inclusion but rather exclusion while being forced to stand outside in the cold of winter.

As the times changed, so did the tactics. District lines were drawn to pinpoint the greatest population of POC to weaken their voting effectiveness by limiting polling sites and creating as many hurdles as possible to disenfranchise their voting rights and collective power.

Larger concentrations of Black and minority residential areas were often targeted with false allegations of voting fraud which has and continues to be used as an excuse to continue these tactics some 56 years later. Purging voting rolls for those who may not have voted in recent elections or failed to register their change of address when relocating is another tactic implemented to accomplish the same objective.

In addition, a lopsided judicial system which incarcerates POC at a higher rate than their Anglo counterparts for the same crimes denies the right to vote to inmates serving time for a felony conviction.

With this current winter climate, we find ourselves at a turning point. We have a former twice impeached president who is currently under investigation for various tactics to overthrow the government, who continues to promote the big lie of a stolen election, potentially seeking another run at the presidency.

In the meantime, he and his cult-like supporters are seeking to tip the scales of democracy by putting into place elected and selected unqualified individuals to do the bidding of a narcissist who envies dictators.

The stage has been set for a comeback journey to regain the White House by any means necessary, legal, or illegal. Yes, our democracy is at stake as our current president has proclaimed, and either the legal system or the vote will ensure it’s survival. And so far, it appears that the legal system has fallen short; and this Teflon Don seems to be untouchable by a system which was never designed to prosecute and convict rich white males in power.

Since Bacon’s Rebellion, and the ushering in of racism/white supremacy, laws were put into place to control the masses and prevent class rebellion. This former president has played that hand all of his life and carelessly flaunts that reality on a public platform.    

The midterm elections are just around the corner and typically they see a far lesser voter turnout. However, this year it is imperative that we show up at the polls and cash our check by casting our vote. It starts here in preparation for the next presidential election in 2024.  

It’s the power of the ballot. It’s why it has been used as a shell game or game of hide and seek for minorities. We have the ability to effect change, to usher in a new season. It gives the term “climate change,” a new meaning.

Those who seek to maintain dominance and control will always seek to prevent the political uprising of those they have oppressed.

Yet, with the continuation of these slick tactics used to suppress the voting rights for POC, it seems like it’s still…Winter in America.

By Tobias Houpe

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