As we crossed the Pettus Bridge, we saw a line of lawmen. "We should kneel and pray," I said to Hosea, but we didn't have time. "Troopers," barked an officer, "advance!" They came at us like a human wave, a blur of blue uniforms, billy clubs, bullwhips and tear gas; one had a piece of rubber hose wrapped in barbed wire. Televised images of that day—on ABC, they broke into the network premiere of "Judgment at Nuremberg"—led President Johnson to declare, "At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man's unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama."
As I watched election night 2000 turn into this controversy over counts and recounts, my mind went back to that day on the bridge. What's happening in Florida and in Washington is more than a game for pundits. The whole mess reminds African-Americans of an era when we had to pass literacy tests, pay poll taxes and cross every t and dot every i to get to be able to vote. You had black men and women, graduates of the best universities in the country, failing literacy tests. A man was once asked how many bubbles were in a bar of soap. For all the political maneuvering and legal wrangling, many people have missed an important point: the story of the 2000 election is about more than George W. Bush and Al Gore. It's about the right to vote. And you cannot understand the true implications of this campaign and the subsequent litigation without grasping how deeply many minorities feel about the seemingly simple matter of the sanctity of the ballot box.
Pretty stirring stuff. I wonder what Rep. Lewis has to say about his party's decision to disenfranchise all of the Democratic voters of Florida in the 2008 primary elections:
Florida party officials said they originally opposed the early primary date, which covers both the Democratic and Republican primaries. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the change and the GOP governor signed it into law in an effort to give the state a more prominent voice in national politics.
But Florida Democratic leaders now are committed to the state-run election because voter participation would drop drastically if Democrats held an alternative contest after Jan. 29.
Members of the Democratic National Committee's rules panel expressed skepticism that Florida Democrats did enough to stop the change and they approved the harshest penalty. Every member voted against Florida except for the state's representative on the panel, Allan Katz.
Refusing to seat the delegates would set a "terrible situation for Florida and a very bad situation for the Democratic Party," Katz said.
Party rules say states cannot hold their 2008 primary contests before Feb. 5, except for Iowa on Jan. 14, Nevada on Jan. 19, New Hampshire on Jan. 22 and South Carolina on Jan. 29.
The calendar was designed to preserve the traditional role that Iowa and New Hampshire have played in selecting the nominee, while adding two states with more racial and geographic diversity to influential early slots.
Several DNC officials said before the vote that they wanted to take the strong action against Florida to discourage Michigan, New Hampshire and other states that were considering advancing their contests in violation of party rules.
Garry Shay, a rules committee member from California, said allowing Florida to move forward "would open the door to chaos."
DNC committee member Donna Brazile also argued for a strong penalty, saying, "I hesitate to see what happens if we show somehow some wiggle room in our process."
Somehow, I doubt we'll see any impassioned analogies between the DNC and Bull Connor:
Terrie Brady, a DNC member who helped present Florida's case, said the party's denial of delegates disenfranchises Florida voters. Rules committee members objected to the term, saying Florida's votes would be counted if they followed the rules.
"I find your use of the word disenfranchisement to be an overstatement," said committee member David McDonald, who is from Washington state.
Apparently the word "disenfranchisement" rankles DNC members when it's applied literally and properly.