The great orator Martin Luther King Jr. famously said these words of comfort for those in the midst of long struggles: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
I have hope — I have faith, as part of my religious belief — that that is true. But there’s a critical corollary: it doesn’t happen by itself. It happens if, and because, we all put our arms up against that arc and bend it. King’s prediction depends on an implicit prediction of the decency and industry of common people willing to sacrifice for a cause.
Without our force, that arc never bends towards justice. It remains, at best, a line. King’s point, in talking about a long arc, like that of a meridian around the Earth, is that in the short term it will generally look just a line — but we have to have faith that it is, indeed, an arc.
Here is the arc of the universe this week in Florida, with a hat tip to jezebel.com:
As King implied, it looks like a line.
These are voting lines in Florida — lines that have reportedly been stretching for up to seven or eight hours. Their length and duration is entirely unnecessary. All we have to do to allow people to vote in an expeditious matter is to provide the resources — enough time, enough space, enough people — for them to do it. It’s not rocket science.
These lines are so long because the Governor of Florida, like the Secretary of State of Ohio, like so many others across the country, WANT them to be that long. If they’re that long, then people will give up and go home without voting.
Time, as the saying goes, is money. Especially in a country where we stubbornly refuse to make Election Day a national holiday, seven hours in line can be a missed day at work, ruinous child care costs, the sorts of things that people with economic privilege can handle and those without cannot.
They are, in short a poll tax. States can no longer charge people to vote — so this is what they do instead.
The poll tax was declared unconstitutional by the Twenty-Fourth Amendment. This, too, should be unconstitutional. If there are exigent circumstances, such as exist in New York City due to Hurricane Sandy, that can be excused. When it comes about as a matter of choice, of calculation for political advantage, it is disgusting. That we put up with it, that it is not front page news every day until it goes away, is disgusting.
It is anti-American, counter-Constitutional, and provides a rationale for revolution. It is an anathema to democracy and we should not be just staring at it like it’s an act of nature, we should be screaming about it like it’s a crime — because, in every sense but the fact that the Supreme Court apparently thinks it’s legal, it is a crime.
I have no problem working with conservatives and with Republicans, many of whom I respect immensely. I may disagree with them about reproductive rights, about privacy, about torture, about war, about allowing starvation and lack of housing and medical care, about taxation, about agriculture, about regulation. I can live with all that.
But I have a litmus test.
If you can look at the efforts to deny the franchise to voters in this country for political advantage by making people jump through hoops to have their say in the process, then I do not want to deal with you. I do not want to make nice, and if I shake your hand it is only because doing so requires less effort than refusing. If you would deny citizens their vote, you are not part of the political process that I respect. You are foreign to our system of government. You are not, at heart, an American. And I do not think that you have a moral right to govern a representative democracy.
We don’t have a Supreme Court that agrees with me yet. We may be deciding whether we will have one, in the intermediate future, this very day.