Saturday, December 10, 2011

Koch Brothers, ALEC, and the Savage Assult on Democracy.

Published: Saturday 10 December 2011
“For decades, the Koch brothers and their foundation have funded ALEC and other groups that are now driving the attack on voting rights in states across the country.”
Billionn­aire broth­ers Charles and David Koch fi­nally got their way in 2011. After their decades of fund­ing the Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Ex­change Coun­cil, the col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions and con­ser­v­a­tive state leg­is­la­tors, the pro­ject began fi­nally to yield the in­tended re­sult. For the first time in decades, the United States saw a steady dis­man­tling of the laws, reg­u­la­tions, pro­grams and prac­tices put in place to make real the promise of Amer­i­can democ­racy.
That is why, on Sat­ur­day, civil rights groups and their al­lies will rally out­side the New York head­quar­ters of the Koch broth­ers to begin a march for the re­newal of vot­ing rights in Amer­ica.
For the Koch broth­ers and their kind, less democ­racy is bet­ter. They fund cam­paigns with mil­lions of dol­lars in checks that have helped elect the likes of Wis­con­sin Gov­er­nor Scott Walker and Ohio Gov­er­nor John Ka­sich. And ALEC has made it clear, through its am­bi­tious “Pub­lic Safety and Elec­tions Task Force,” that while it wants to dis­man­tle any bar­ri­ers to cor­po­rate cash and bil­lion­aire bucks’ in­flu­enc­ing elec­tions, it wants very much to erect bar­ri­ers to the pri­mary tool that Amer­i­cans who are not CEOs have to in­flu­ence the pol­i­tics and the gov­ern­ment of the na­tion: vot­ing.
That crude cal­cu­lus, usu­ally cloaked in bu­reau­cracy and back-room deal­mak­ing, came into full view in 2011.
Across the coun­try, and to a greater ex­tent than at any time since the last days of South­ern re­sis­tance to de­seg­re­ga­tion, vot­ing rights were being sys­tem­at­i­cally di­min­ished rather than ex­panded.
ALEC has been or­ga­niz­ing and pro­mot­ing the as­sault, en­cour­ag­ing its leg­isla­tive min­ions to enact rigid Voter ID laws and re­lated at­tacks on vot­ing rights in more than three dozen states.
With their re­quire­ments that the mil­lions of Amer­i­cans who lack dri­ver’s li­censes and other forms of of­fi­cial pa­per­work go out and pur­chase iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cards in order to cast bal­lots, the Voter ID push put in place new vari­a­tions on an old evil: the poll tax.
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“We are in the midst of the great­est co­or­di­nated leg­isla­tive at­tack on vot­ing rights since the dawn of Jim Crow,” says NAACP Pres­i­dent Ben­jamin Jeal­ous. “Voter ID laws are noth­ing but rein­car­nated poll taxes and liter acy tests, and ex-felon vot­ing bans serve the same pur­pose today as when they were cre­ated in the wake of the Fif­teenth Amend­ment guar­an­tee­ing ex-slaves the vote—sup­press­ing vot­ing num­bers among peo­ple of color.”
Voter ID laws rep­re­sent only the be­gin­ning of the as­sault on voter rights. In states across the coun­try in 2011, con­ser­v­a­tive gov­er­nors and leg­is­la­tors who had swept to power in the 2010 elec­tion moved to re­strict ac­cess to the polls in other ways. They ended elec­tion-day reg­is­tra­tion pro­grams in state such as Maine, end­ing a prac­tice that had al­lowed new vot­ers to come to the polls, fill out a sim­ple form and cast a bal­lot. They re­stricted early vot­ing in states such as Ohio, mak­ing it dra­mat­i­cally harder for cit­i­zens to cast bal­lots in the run-up to an elec­tion. They scrapped week­end vot­ing in Ohio, where work­ing men and women had been able to cast bal­lots on their days off. They placed new re­stric­tions on vot­ing by stu­dents at col­leges and tech­ni­cal schools, even going so far in Wis­con­sin as to move the pri­mary elec­tion date to when most stu­dents were on sum­mer break. They re­duced the num­ber of polling places in some states, mak­ing it harder for vot­ers who lack trans­porta­tion to get to the polls. And after they es­tab­lished the Voter ID re­quire­ments in Wis­con­sin, and said that cit­i­zens had to go to the De­part­ment of Motor Ve­hi­cles to get the proper pa­per­work, they tried to re­duce the num­ber of DMV of­fices.
“For nearly a cen­tury, there were Jim Crow laws in place that dis­cour­aged peo­ple of color from vot­ing, ex­plains Wade Hen­der­son, the pres­i­dent and CEO of the Lead­er­ship Coun­cil on Civil and Human Rights. “Today, there are dif­fer­ent laws, but the ob­jec­tive is the same—to pre­vent mil­lions from ex­er­cis­ing their right to vote.”
No one who is se­ri­ous about vot­ing and elec­tions misses the point of the pro­ject.
The point is not just to make it harder to vote. The point is to make it harder for cit­i­zens to elect leg­is­la­tors, gov­er­nors, mem­bers of Con­gress and pres­i­dents who will reg­u­late and tax multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions such as Koch In­dus­tries, while at the same time es­tab­lish­ing pro­grams that meet the needs of the great mass of Amer­i­cans. “Now, just as be­fore, they are seek­ing to block us from vot­ing in order to make it eas­ier to come after our other rights,” says Mike Mul­grew, pres­i­dent of the United Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers. “Every­thing we care about is at stake, from the right to a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion to the right to a fair wage.”
It is with all of this in mind that the NAACP, the Na­tional Coun­cil of La Raza, the Asian Amer­i­can Legal De­fense & Ed­u­ca­tion Fund and al­lied civil rights and civil lib­er­ties or­ga­ni­za­tions, churches and unions have en­dorsed the “Stand for Free­dom” vot­ing rights cam­paign, which will launch with a march Sat­ur­day from the of­fices of the Koch broth­ers to the United Na­tions. At the United Na­tions, the groups will mark Human Rights Day by call­ing for an end to as­saults on vot­ing rights in the United States.
The choice of the Koch broth­ers of­fice as a start­ing point is not sym­bolic. It is prac­ti­cal. For decades, the Koch broth­ers and their foun­da­tion have funded ALEC and other groups that are now dri­ving the at­tack on vot­ing rights in states across the coun­try.
The peo­ple are push­ing back. In No­vem­ber, Main­ers voted by an over­whelm­ing mar­gin to re­store elec­tion-day reg­is­tra­tion. In other states, vot­ing rights has be­come a cen­tral po­lit­i­cal issue. And, now, that issue is being raised at the head­quar­ters of the Koch broth­ers—and the United Na­tions.
“From the be­gin­ning of our na­tion’s found­ing, Amer­i­cans have un­der­stood that vot­ing was fun­da­men­tal to their pur­suit of free­dom and equal op­por­tu­nity,” says Lil­lian Rodríguez López, Pres­i­dent of the His­panic Fed­er­a­tion. “Any at­tempt to un­der­mine the right to vote, es­pe­cially when that ef­fort is di­rected at his­tor­i­cally mar­gin­al­ized groups, must be treated as an at­tack on the very ideals that cre­ated our coun­try: democ­racy and equal­ity. And that is why we stand up for free­dom and con­tinue to fight for the right to vote for all Amer­i­cans.”
This story orig­i­nally ap­peared in The Na­tion. 
Copy­right © The Na­tion – dis­trib­uted by Agence Global.

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