Replacing Criminalization and Disenfranchisement with Citizenship and Voting Rights
By Losmin Jimenez
Upon the founding of the United States, the right to vote and right to be considered a citizen was reserved for a select few: White, land-owning men. It was the Supreme Court that told us in 1857 that Dred Scott, a Black man in Missouri, could not be a citizen. Eventually, citizenship and enfranchisement were granted to former slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation 1863, and the 14th Amendment in 1868, but not without the overcoming of many violent hurdles. It was not until 1924 when Native Americans were recognized as citizens by an act of Congress. Yet and still, White Nationalism resisted these reforms. The Ku Klux Klan was not the only perpetrators of terrorism, not only across the rural South, but in major cities across the Midwest. Many citizens were disenfranchised and kept from voting by the legislated and systemized racism of Jim Crow and racialized criminalization.
The right to vote is now under attack with growing voter suppression tactics around the country. We just experienced this around the country during the mid-term elections. Politicians, including the President, are no longer afraid or ashamed of touting their White Nationalist bona fides before their adoring rabid crowds. Joining the assault on our fundamental rights and foundational values is the President’s declaration to end birthright citizenship by executive order. The appeal to his White Nationalist base is obvious. Trump took advantage of White Nationalist xenophobia and used it as a wedge in his Party to differentiate himself from the Republican pack, galvanizing a base united by White anxiety to win the primary. Whether Trump’s latest effort to take away citizenship from babies born on U.S. soil is a just a cynical ploy to rile up his core base of voters or a ruse pretending to deliver on his racist promises, the sheer audacity of his threat, coupled with the actions of those acting out their hatred on innocent people in our communities across the country, is all the more reason for people who believe in the fundamental American values of diversity and equality to vote on Election Day next week.
When the Klan ran rampant, using terror and Jim Crow to keep Black citizens from voting, it was young people of color like the organizers of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee who had the courage to lead voter registration campaigns in Mississippi. Young people of color today are still leading the nation, shaking America to wake up to discrimination in the criminal justice system. Young voters of color, it seems, are not scared off by recent events, but on the contrary, excited to turn out for the mid-term election next week. In a recently conducted polls by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Racial Equity Anchor Collaborative, in addition to the NAACP, the African American Research Collaborative and Advancement Project, voters of color – including those ages 18-24 – were eager to vote this year because they are motivated to make an impact on the racism, hate and police brutality that they’ve seen. They are ready to help change the behaviors of prosecutors, sheriffs, county commissioners, city councils and congress.