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Battle over growing wealth disparity looms large in Democratic primary

Melvin B. Miller
Battle over growing wealth disparity looms large in Democratic primary
“Well, at least they pay attention to us every four years.” (Photo: Dan Drew)

There is a human proclivity to take for granted today’s circumstances. During the current controversies over the presidential election, there are frequent references to the significance of the black vote. But that was not always the case. Black History Month is a good time to review the effort to develop black political power over the past years.

A major motivation of the Civil Rights Movement was to register blacks to vote. In many places in the South where the black population exceeded the whites, resistance to black suffrage was substantial. While there were numerous stories about the bravery of blacks in confronting white resistance to blacks at the polls, the racial mix on the voting rolls throughout the South was not improving.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower decided that the federal government had to use its authority to effect the needed changes. He signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 with the primary objective of establishing the Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department. The rules regarding voting had always been considered to be exclusively within the jurisdiction of each state; however, the U.S. Department of Justice then asserted that federal standards were required to comply with the U.S. Constitution.

Government lawyers descended on Forrest County, Miss., a classic case of racial discrimination in voter registration. In 1961, blacks were 30 percent of the population but a mere 12 individuals were registered. Gordon Martin, a Boston resident and a Justice Department lawyer, wrote a book “Count Them One by One,” in which he described the confrontation in detail.

With success in Mississippi, civil rights leaders were encouraged to push for a Civil Rights Act in 1964 that made it a federal offense to discriminate in education, employment and places of public accommodation. That effort demonstrated the growth of black political power. Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate for president in 1964, got only 6 percent of the black votes as a result of his opposition to the Civil Rights Act. This was an enormous drop from Richard Nixon’s 32 percent of the black vote in 1960.

The size of the black voting bloc was further increased by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that made it illegal for states covered by the law to change the government-approved voting rules without official review of the potential affect on black voters. The law originally included most of the states of the Old Confederacy.

The black voting bloc continued to increase in size and, after Goldwater, developed an antipathy for the Republican Party. When one considers the campaigns of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, it is unlikely that there will be much black support for Republicans in the final election. Now the issue is which Democrat to support in the primaries — Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders?

The answer is either one, depending upon your primary concerns. Both support essentially progressive proposals, but Sanders brings a major advantage that Clinton does not. He has fired up the Democratic constituents and has raised massive amounts of campaign contributions from small donors. That is the only way to defeat the ability of the plutocrats to buy elections.

Another advantage is that Sanders is mobilizing a populist revolution to end the nation’s wealth disparity. Rather than risk the establishment of a Sanders presidential administration, wealthy Republicans will do whatever is necessary to keep Sanders out of the White House. For this reason, some Clinton supporters insist she is more electable.

Blacks have developed political power. The question now is whether they are willing to employ their might at the polls to support Bernie Sanders, a candidate with the temerity to confront the plutocrats to defeat economic policies that keep blacks impoverished. Clinton is certainly preferable to any of the Republicans, but now is the time to join the revolution to diminish the nation’s wealth inequality.

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