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Mitch Edelman: Still a long way to go for equality

On Wednesday, Washington commemorated the 50th anniversary of one of the most important events in American history, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, best known for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial Aug. 28, 1963.
America was a different place then. The segregated South opposed anything resembling racial equality. In all of the South and much of the Old West, "separate but equal" was the byword for justifying second-class citizenship and third-rate public accommodations for black Americans. Every state in the Old Confederacy, and several more outside of it, carried anti-miscegenation laws on the books, prohibiting marriages between whites and non-whites. Nearly a century after the end of the Civil War, racism remained deeply woven into the fabric of American law and life.
It was against that background that around a quarter-million people, mostly African Americans, held the rally that moved Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and later the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
One might think that nearly a half-century of progress in civil rights might have removed the institutional barriers to full equality against which the March on Washington protested. But one would be wrong. To be certain, there has been much progress in making America a more just country, but each step was met with resistance. For instance, schools in Prince George's County were not integrated until 1973, nearly 20 years after separate-but-equal had been declared unconstitutional.
Just this June, a HUD report showed that in all regions of the country, real estate agents show racial minorities fewer homes and apartments than white clients. African-American men earn only about Ð as much as white men. That gap in earnings decreases with increased education, but whites earn more than blacks at all education levels.
Putting it simply, our society has a very long way to go before King's dream becomes reality, and this is transparently clear when we examine laws aimed at suppressing the vote of racial minorities.
Just two months ago, the Supreme Court invalidated sections of the Voting Rights Act designed to monitor changes in election laws in areas of the country with ongoing patterns of racial discrimination. The court acknowledged that although more still needs to be done, the act had brought about progress. The majority opinion said, "voting tests were abolished, disparities in voter registration and turnout due to race were erased and African-Americans attained political office in record numbers." The court then used Alice-in-Wonderland logic to stop applying the remedy before the disease was eliminated.
Even before the ruling, states such as Texas, with a proven history of discriminatory voting laws, enacted voter ID legislation that the Justice Department is suing to repeal, saying it imposes unreasonable hardships on minorities. Texas is not alone in its attempted voter suppression: The Brennan Center for Justice lists 31 states that in 2013 have passed at least 82 restrictive voting bills. That was before North Carolina passed what The Nation calls the country's worst voter suppression law.
These Jim Crow measures are designed to keep the poorest and least privileged of citizens from committing "voter fraud." The truth these Republican legislatures deny is that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent. In an article appearing last April, US News and World Report declared it to be "a myth," and said, "There is absolutely zero evidence that anyone who has put any false information on a voter registration form has actually voted using that information."
We can argue what government's role should be in regulating or managing the nation's economy or just how much good Obamacare does, or what value government-funded jobs programs create. But the right every citizen must have to participate in this country's democratic process is absolute. A half-century after the March on Washington for Jobs and Equality, it is a crime and a sin for any American to support voter suppression laws.

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