By Vernon A. Williams
The monumental COVID relief bill is a paramount concern. People are suffering and in desperate need of help, not pity. Vaccinations, continued safe practices and overall efforts to garner control of this deadly virus will dictate the health fate of the world. Rightly, this is our primary focus. Without health, we have nothing.
But make no mistake, as we emerge from the forced and necessary constraints of the past year, we are fraught with both dire challenges and amazing opportunities in the aftermath. We already were besieged with devastating realities when first we found ourselves confronted with the frightening, hurtful, anxiety of a lethal unknown disease.
Whether we remember or not, there was discord in the nation’s capital, tension between the races, a growing chasm between the haves and have nots, the threat of war on multiple levels, children confined to cages, increasingly anti-Semitic, misogynistic, sexist, racist, xenophobic mentalities and practices that thwarted societal progress.
Mass shootings and police brutality ran rampant. Sometimes we have selective memory and become so inundated with the most recent pain that previous suffering is blurred.
This is not brought back to your realm of consciousness to depress you or dampen your spirit. It is designed to remind us all of where we were even when the coronavirus struck.
That’s necessary to keep us from praying that we return to “normal” or somehow reclaim the place that we enjoyed at the time of all this heartache and pain. We need to be conscious of the fact that we were NOT in a good place to begin with. That’s the only way to push intelligent dialogue on where we are and where we go from here.
Even as we become more safely mobile with fewer threats to our physical and mental health, it is imperative that we not lose focus on critical factors that will influence our quality of life as a people in the near and distant future. We must be in the midst of political, social and economic evolution beyond this crisis.
For example, Republican-controlled states are gearing up to make voting as difficult as possible for Black Americans. That’s a fact. Some of the obstacles may come from the federal government, some may be channeled through the U.S. Supreme Court, to which the most recent former president made three of the nine appointments.
A bill being pushed by the GOP-controlled state house and senate in Iowa will make it harder for voters to return absentee ballots and reduce the number of early voting days from 29 to 20. It would also require voting places to close an hour earlier, at 8 p.m. rather than 9 p.m. Governor Kim Reynolds is expected to sign that legislation.
Similar voter rollback measures are approaching passage in both Arizona and Georgia, two states 45 lost to Joe Biden because of the heavy turnout of African Americans. The 2020 election saw record numbers of early and mail-in voters, which generally favor Democrats, in both states.
Iowa Democratic Representative Jennifer Konfrst puzzled, “What I don’t see, what I can’t understand is how it is possible to look at the facts of this election and say, ‘Okay, everything went great so what should we do?’ Let’s make it harder to vote. I am frustrated by this bill. I am wary of the consequences and angry about this.”
Iowa, Arizona and Georgia are not anomalies. The Brennan Center for Justice’s updated analytics report indicates that at least 253 bills have been introduced this year alone in 43 state legislatures with provisions that would restrict voting access, more than six times the number of voter suppression bills existing at the same time a year ago.
That is a stunning development. If we haven’t learned anything since 2016, it is that elections have consequences. Who would imagine that a reality talk show host would con his way into office precisely at the time of the exit of three justices from the U.S. Supreme Court. If a small percentage of Black voters in three Midwest states had come to the polls more forcefully, we would never have had the past four years of government ruin.
The good news is that President Biden is on the side of right. Commemorating the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, he signed an executive order expanding voter access in what the White House called “an initial step” in efforts to “protect the right to vote and ensure citizens can freely participate in the electoral process.”
All this negative energy to negate the voting power of Blacks is backlash to the strength of the voting blocs in states like Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia, where stunning victories assured the demise of the last occupant of the Oval Office. Republican strategists are trying to neutralize Black voting prowess in 2022 and beyond.