This weekend, at the site where police beatings and brutality designed to preserve white supremacy clashed with Americans of all colors and creeds marching peacefully to demand the most basic of the rights of a citizen - the right to vote - for African Americans, spoke the first African American President of the United States. 50 years after Selma, in Selma stood Barack Obama, humbled and inspired by a man he described as his personal hero, John Lewis.
There could have been no more powerful symbol of the American capacity to change and progress, no more stunning an image captivating the American yearning for a more perfect union than the nation's first African American president addressing the 50-year commemoration of an event with the humble (yet seemingly insurmountable) goal simply to achieve the vote.
Let no one tell you that America hasn't progressed, that America hasn't changed, that America isn't a better place today, reminded this president to the crowd. To do so is to insult the memory of those who marched so that we can run - and win the highest office in the land, said the president. To do so is to insult all we have achieved together. "What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic. It’s no longer sanctioned by law or by custom. And before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was," the president said.
Still, no one is more aware of the fact that although we have come a long way, our journey isn't yet complete than this president. The Voting Rights Act that the marchers in Selma fought for is under attack by the Supreme Court, and politicians in many states are engaged in a shameful attempt to make it harder for people to vote - this too the president reminded us as he called on the 100 members of Congress who gathered there to return to Washington determined to fix and renew the protections of the Voting Rights Act this year.
But in the end, no amount of legislation is going to be enough if Americans continue to regard voting as a chore to be put off.
We do give away our power. And this brings me to the theme of this essay: that the political Left in this country cannot escape accountability for the assault on voting as well as for American racism. For it is many on the ideological Left that have been telling us that nothing ever really changes, that democracy is just an illusion, that it doesn't matter who is president or who controls Congress, that both parties are the same, that this president is worse than Bush, and most insidious of all, that staying home is a form of protest to punish politicians who in your judgment haven't done "enough".
Many among us who do not directly push those lines to others are still only too happy to nod and comment on how "brilliant" and "wise" these peddlers of hopelessness are.
We can blame the Right all we want, and the Right is, without a shadow of a doubt, despicable. Their attacks on the rights of minorities, women and the poor are legendary and directly harmful to the hard fought victories #Selma50 celebrates. But nothing - nothing - is more damaging to right to vote than the idea that your vote is irrelevant, that the sacrifice of countless Americans to get you that vote was in vein.
We can blame the Right - and we should - for passing draconian voter registration and voter ID laws to suppress the vote. But know this: nothing suppresses the vote like the pernicious message that no matter how you vote, you would be voting for "evil." We can blame five conservative men in black robes - and we should - for attempting to destroy voter protections by judicial fiat. But nothing is so destructive to the hopes of the young and young at heart that is inextricably linked to our drive to vote than to tar and feather the country's first African American president with myths and stereotypes that still hunt black and brown men and women: that he's lazy, stupid, or a sellout when precisely the opposite is true.
No one is better at convincing their own side of that destructive message than the Left's loudest noises, I mean, voices.
The perpetuation of these ideas, echoing from the "liberal" news rooms to the Oscar stage, suppresses the vote as much as any piece of legislation Republican legislators can dream up, and most likely more so. When recognized "liberal" web sites and news stations engage in attempting to stop the only real chance of true health care reform in 70 years by terming it not simply inadequate but evil, when Left blogosphere's leaders are celebrated for appearing on Fox News to try to stop it, that brazen political cynicism robs us of hope - the hope that Civil Rights marchers never gave up in their quest to obtain the right to live under a government of their choosing.
When Hollywood awards the Documentary Oscar to two self-described "journalists" whose only credit is profiting from padding and fluffing the stream of illegal document release by a fugitive hiding out in Putin's shadow (and whose document dump showed nothing illegal), that robs us of faith - the faith that we sorely need in our future and our country's future to realize the worth of our own stake in that future. It's faith we desperately need to be full citizens.
When the Left side of our media runs with these half-cocked stories for the sake of sensationalism, repeatedly bringing on a chorus of voices of Very Serious People (TM) who arrive on their high white horses to proclaim that the president who has ended two wars, almost emptied Gitmo, signed whistleblower protections, ended torture and administered the restoration of judicial oversight over surveillance is a worse enemy of Americans' freedoms than the man whose messes he's been cleaning up, that shakes our trust that in America, in the end, We The People have the last word.
Robbing that hope, that trust and that faith is no smaller an assault on the vote than draconian voter ID laws. You can get an ID, but hope is far more difficult to gain back once lost. You can challenge the laws, but you can't challenge your own despair resulting from a void of faith in your country's present and its future.
The ideological Left hell bent on punishing this president for not sticking to their Ordained Checklist - and more broadly, the Left that has for decades been perpetuating the myth that Democrats are just the "lesser evil" - is just as guilty as the repugnant Right in suppressing the vote in America. They can hold up signs opposing these laws in Republican state capitals, but they cannot - if we are to be honest - shirk responsibility in the perpetuation of the popular myths that directly gave rise to these GOP controls in state governments and Congress. This is not mere complacency, this is responsibility.
America's discussion about race and the right and duty to vote cannot progress well without admitting this critical, though inconvenient, truth. We cannot continue to choose between one side that would directly assault our right to vote and another that will keep up withering attacks on the reasons that bring one to the polling place. We must reject the ugly claws on the Right and the merchants of hopelessness on the Left.
We must become better. We must take on the president's challenge. We must stop giving away our power. Because at the end, as the President so aptly said, the most important word in the American experiment is we.
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