Freedom Day in South Africa, Voter Suppression at Home
Today is the 18th anniversary of the first non-racial democratic elections in South Africa – Freedom Day. It marks the end of government-sanctioned apartheid and the opening up of the right to vote for all citizens of South Africa. No doubt a cause for celebration.
But as we rejoice in accomplishments of the many heroes of the global anti-apartheid movement, we must also acknowledge the continued deep racial inequities in South Africa. Though a small number of black South Africans have joined whites in the affluent middle and upper class, the vast majority of black South Africans continue to live in abject poverty. On the aggregate, economic disparities between whites and blacks has actually increased since the end of apartheid, with blacks also far behind in educational and health successes.
There are no doubt lots of variables at play here – including significant corruption and the global trend of increased inequality as result of neoliberal economic policies – but it is clear that the right to vote is only a small part of the picture. It’s been 18 years since the end of apartheid, but “freedom” in South Africa still has a lot of maturing left to do.
And on this day when celebrate voting rights in South Africa, let us also turn our view inward, and check in on the state of our democracy here in the United States.
Over the past two years, state legislatures across the country have passed voter suppression laws under the guise of preventing voter fraud. These measures include requiring voters to have a photo ID and proof of citizenship, and place extreme restrictions on third-party registration and early voting. These measures place a specific burden on people of color, the poor, students, transgender folks, and the elderly.
In Texas, for instance, a law passed last year restricts students from using their school IDs to vote, but allows gun-owners to use their gun-permits at the ballot boxes. A Florida law passed last spring is wide-ranging in it disenfranchisement - it places severe restrictions on groups registering new voters, cuts the early voting period in half, and roll-backs voting rights for people with convictions.
And bringing this issue right here to Oakland, a group has been gathering signatures to try to get a proposal on the November ballot to repeal ranked-choice voting. Ranked-choice voting has many benefits - encouraging coalition building, ensuring the engagement of communities in the flatlands by all the candidates, and saving considerable city funds by making a runoff election unnecessary.
Luckily, according to the East Bay Express, It looks as though the group won’t be able to the 20,000 signatures needed get the proposal on the ballot. Yet, making sure we don't let the appeal pass, and speaking out against voter suppression across the country is a truly appropriate way to celebrate on Freedom Day.
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