We had a server outage, and we're rebuilding the site. Some of the site features won't work. Thank you for your patience.
imc indymedia

Los Angeles Indymedia : Activist News

white themeblack themered themetheme help
About Us Contact Us Calendar Publish RSS
Features
latest news
best of news
syndication
commentary


KILLRADIO

VozMob

ABCF LA

A-Infos Radio

Indymedia On Air

Dope-X-Resistance-LA List

LAAMN List




IMC Network:

Original Cities

www.indymedia.org africa: ambazonia canarias estrecho / madiaq kenya nigeria south africa canada: hamilton london, ontario maritimes montreal ontario ottawa quebec thunder bay vancouver victoria windsor winnipeg east asia: burma jakarta japan korea manila qc europe: abruzzo alacant andorra antwerpen armenia athens austria barcelona belarus belgium belgrade bristol brussels bulgaria calabria croatia cyprus emilia-romagna estrecho / madiaq euskal herria galiza germany grenoble hungary ireland istanbul italy la plana liege liguria lille linksunten lombardia london madrid malta marseille nantes napoli netherlands nice northern england norway oost-vlaanderen paris/Île-de-france patras piemonte poland portugal roma romania russia saint-petersburg scotland sverige switzerland thessaloniki torun toscana toulouse ukraine united kingdom valencia latin america: argentina bolivia chiapas chile chile sur cmi brasil colombia ecuador mexico peru puerto rico qollasuyu rosario santiago tijuana uruguay valparaiso venezuela venezuela oceania: adelaide aotearoa brisbane burma darwin jakarta manila melbourne perth qc sydney south asia: india mumbai united states: arizona arkansas asheville atlanta austin baltimore big muddy binghamton boston buffalo charlottesville chicago cleveland colorado columbus dc hawaii houston hudson mohawk kansas city la madison maine miami michigan milwaukee minneapolis/st. paul new hampshire new jersey new mexico new orleans north carolina north texas nyc oklahoma philadelphia pittsburgh portland richmond rochester rogue valley saint louis san diego san francisco san francisco bay area santa barbara santa cruz, ca sarasota seattle tampa bay tennessee urbana-champaign vermont western mass worcester west asia: armenia beirut israel palestine process: fbi/legal updates mailing lists process & imc docs tech volunteer projects: print radio satellite tv video regions: oceania united states topics: biotech

Surviving Cities

www.indymedia.org africa: canada: quebec east asia: japan europe: athens barcelona belgium bristol brussels cyprus germany grenoble ireland istanbul lille linksunten nantes netherlands norway portugal united kingdom latin america: argentina cmi brasil rosario oceania: aotearoa united states: austin big muddy binghamton boston chicago columbus la michigan nyc portland rochester saint louis san diego san francisco bay area santa cruz, ca tennessee urbana-champaign worcester west asia: palestine process: fbi/legal updates process & imc docs projects: radio satellite tv
printable version - js reader version - view hidden posts - tags and related articles

COUP WATCH: *The Right to Vote* Provides Deep Background For Unfolding History

by Paul H. Rosenberg Friday, Dec. 08, 2000 at 12:03 AM
rad@gte.net

The massive irregularities in Florida are entirely in keeping with the darker side of the history of voting rights in America. The most knowledgeable expert on such matters is Duke historian Alexander Keyssar, author of *The Right To Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States*, reviewed here.

COUP WATCH: The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States COUP WATCH: The Right to Vote Provides Deep Background For Unfolding History In Florida

By Paul Rosenberg

Book Review:
      The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States
            By Alexander Keyssar / Basic Books
            467 pages; .00

The United States has abysmally low voter turnout, yet we still cherish a public mythology that America is the "Land of Democracy," superior to all others in every significant way. This includes the assumption that Americans have long enjoyed something close to universal suffrage. We know this wasn't true in the pre-civil rights era South, but that's usually regarded as a regional anomaly and is readily shrugged off. If we haven't always been perfect, at least we've always striven for perfection--so goes the myth.

Or at least so went the myth before November 7. But historians have long known otherwise. Most notoriously, blacks gained the right to vote after the Civil War, only to lose it almost completely in the deep South under Jim Crow, but there are numerous less-dramatic reversals. The massive irregularities in Florida are entirely in keeping with the darker side of the history of voting rights in America. The most knowledgeable expert on such matters is Duke historian Alexander Keyssar, author of The Right To Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States. He's been widely interviewed by the more saavy members of the media over the past several weeks, but no interview can hope to do justice to the rich complexity of the story his book has to tell.

Keyssar does much more than simply collect these various reversals and advances together into a single book--though it's been over 50 years since anyone even attempted that much. Rather, he develops a broad-based, realistic picture of the various historical forces working for or against the expansion of democracy, which in turn makes sense of an otherwise bewildering array of advances and retreats. The result is a marvelously coherent, richly detailed history of a most hard-won right. America certainly was the first modern democracy, but being first did not exempt us from the kinds of historical struggles that plagued other countries in expanding the right of self-government.

Without oversimplifying, Keyssar identifies four different periods in our history when distinctive dynamics tended to prevail. Immigration, urbanization, industrialization and class conflict were the great engines driving these changes. The first period of expanding the electorate lasted until around 1850. Then mass immigration and the specter of a European-style working class triggered a period of upper- and middle-class hostility to democracy in which a variety of measures (such as registration laws and residency requirements) contracted the electorate until WWI. The actions and rationales that predominated during this period are the ones most vividly brought to mind by Florida's myriad irregularities and tortured reasoning used to keep them from being rectified. A third, static period of mostly minor tinkering lasted until the 1960s, when the impetus of the civil rights movement helped do away with most other obstacles as well. The two highest-profile struggles for voting rights--that of women and blacks--generally don't fit neatly into these periods. Instead, the different period dynamics explain a great deal about the obstacles those movements struggled against and the forces favoring them.

This history is sprinkled with surprising details, such as 19th century frontier states that allowed alien settlers to vote, states that allowed women to vote in school board elections, and the nearly-universal loss of voting rights by free blacks between 1790 and 1850, when voting rights for whites were expanding. Even more revealing is the harsh light the factual record throws on spurious ideals used to restrict voting rights. Residency and registration laws, invariably proposed in the name of good government always managed to have a sharp class and ethnic bias in keeping people from the polls, despite having an appearance of formal nuetrality. But just in case they might actually be too nuetral, states often passed such laws limited exclusively to major cities populated by immigrant workers.

Equally telling is the recurrence of anti-democratic ideas, raised to the level of high principle whenever too many of the "wrong sort" start to think that the "self" in "self-government" includes them. Particular favorites were the notion that voting is a privilege or a trust, not a right, and a cluster of sometimes contradictory rationales surrounding property or wealth restrictions. Although such battles seem safely past, the yawning chasm between our mythic ideal and our real history is a potent reminder against glib self-congratulation, particularly when so few normally see this right as the precious prize The Right to Vote shows it to be.

If you really want to understand what's happening in Florida, the way a bewildering array of lagalisms, august principles and allegedly nuetral standards are being hurriedly, yet carefully deployed to thwart the obvious will of the people, then the only way to really understand it all is to read this book. If you do, you won't be surprised by Antonin Scalia remarking that there is no right to vote. You won't be shocked by the Supreme Court warning the Florida Supreme Court not to rely on the right to vote in Florida's constitution. You won't be caught off guard by seeing thousands of people arbitrarily and mistakenly removed from the voting roles. You won't bat an eye to hear about anything that's gone on in Florida this year, because you'll know there's nothing new in any of it. These are America's real traditional values in action when it comes to doing everything imaginable to undermine and deny the right to vote.

Report this post as:

© 2000-2018 Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by the Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Running sf-active v0.9.4 Disclaimer | Privacy