Yesterday, America went back in time. What does the Supreme Court decision and the Wendy Davis filibuster mean for the “future”?
Today, my Korean American daughter turns 2 years old. Next month, we move to Houston, Texas. I am terrified for her.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court voted to overturn a key component of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (1965!)—thereby making it legal for states to set voting laws without federal approval. This means voting laws that may, and probably will, discriminate against poor people and minorities. Texas immediately announced it would be remapping districts (which will surely favor the party in power) and passing voter identification laws. Soon to go will be early voting laws that help turn out the vote among, well, liberals. (See this Times article for a breakdown.)
Later in the day, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis attempted to filibuster an abortion law likely to shut down the vast majority of clinics in the state, closing them under the guise of safety regulations. The law will require abortion clinics to be up to the equipment standards of a hospital operating room, which is outside of most clinics’ budgets. The closings will, of course, greatly affect women’s health care.
I write “attempted” because the Republican senators used parliamentary objections to shut down the filibuster. The sticking point was that Davis brought up sonogram laws, which Republicans cited as not “germane” to the abortion bill. Democrats argued that sonograms are indeed relevant; sonograms are often crucial in the decision to abort and the laws making it harder to abort. Eventually, the growing crowd at the Senate building took matters into its own hands, effectively starting a “people’s filibuster” by shouting out the voting procedure until midnight had passed—at which time, a vote is against the rules. The Republicans, however called the vote anyway, claiming that the interruption—that is, the direct voice of the people they represent—was only a time out, and passed the bill 19-10. Thankfully, this decision was thrown out this morning, but the same law is likely to pass in a special session or in a later amendment.
By the way, you read that correctly: a “time out,” like what you would say when you were about to be tagged, in Tag, as a child. Just before you might run away and call “time in” from a safe place.
For women and minorities, those safe places are disappearing. Even the illusion that those in power still represent the will of the people is disappearing, as polls that show the general population (democracy) in support of gay marriage and gun control go ignored by lawmakers, who listen instead to lobbyists (oligarchy?). And it is no coincidence that the disappearance of rights is happening now, when those people who have historically had less freedom are close to becoming the majority, when we have a black president who could possibly be followed by a woman president.
When people are starting to realize that freedom of speech is not only about having the freedom to speak, but about the freedom for all people to be heard.
Yesterday, we took a step back in time, a step toward silencing those Americans who are not rich white men. I am raising a Korean American daughter, while losing hope that she will have as many rights as I did, in the 1980s. I am losing hope that we are progressing.
The reason the Supreme Court gave for overturning the Voting Rights Act was that most dangerous bit of racism: that things are equal enough. That minority voters are beyond needing protection. I am sure we see very different worlds, the Judges and I. Yet mine is the world their worldview is affecting.
To recap, SCOTUS ruled yesterday that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to insist on standards for equal voting right by claiming equal rights exist. Even if that were completely true (which it is not), the logic here is breathtakingly backwards. Imagine justifying killing someone by saying death is just a fact of life. Imagine a county with zero murders in the last year annulling the law that makes murder illegal. (And for those who would object that this justification isn’t representative of the entire country, I’m here to tell you that the SCOTUS justification isn’t either.)
Or think of it this way, while Democrats fall over themselves to insist that banning assault rifles doesn’t mean they are rejecting a right granted in 1776 to protect farmers from invading imperialists, SCOTUS is saying that a law passed to protect civil liberties in 1965 is outdated now because—you’re welcome, America—people’s liberties are safe.
But what makes me most terrified of raising a daughter in this America is the kind of racism, the type of inequality, that does exist so rampantly now and is being held up by law and lawmakers. Post-racism is, in our current moment, maybe the most dangerous type of racism. It is the kind of racism that says, the racism minorities experience is all in our heads. It is the kind of racism that says, the racism that is still going on is okay. Because we’re pretending we don’t see it. It is the kind of racism that attempts to completely disempower not only minorities (a la the “original” racism), but also the efforts for real equality. It is the kind of racism that creates the very breeding ground for more, and more of, overt and legitimized racism, as it asserts that no one needs to protect the rights of people of color.
On top of that, the Republican party has laid down the gauntlet against women in the same manner. Women don’t need to be able to make decisions about their bodies, Republicans are saying, because they have enough power already. Rich white men are only looking out for women’s rights by denying them rights.
I am so worried about bringing up my daughter in a country that will not acknowledge her humanity at all.
My family is moving to Texas, but this move back to the 1950s is not a Texan problem. This is an American problem. This is not a problem Americans can avoid by pretending it isn’t there, or that we have moved beyond discrimination as a nation. This is not a problem Americans can avoid, either, by avoiding Texas. If we still paid attention to history, we would see how far see-no-evil/hear-no-evil can get us. And we had better pay attention to history, because we’re about to be living in it.