Sunday, July 19, 2015

Trading Symbolism for Substance

Last week Democrats in the House started attaching an amendment to appropriation bills curtailing the display of Confederate flags on graves in federal cemeteries and the sale of Confederate flag in national park gift stores. When some Southern representatives objected to it, Speaker Boehner was forced to bring the whole process to a halt. On Thursday the Democrats, led by the Congressional Black Caucus, offered a compromise.
Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, said Thursday that Democratic leaders will drop their push to attach flag-related amendments to appropriations bills, freeing Republicans to pursue their spending agenda, if GOP leaders will agree to consider an update to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a central part of which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.

"I'm here to say to you that the members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the full Democratic Caucus are willing to sit down with the Speaker and work out a way for us to allow the proper display and utilization of ... the flag in certain instances if he would only sit down with us and work out an appropriate addressing of the amendments to the Voting Rights Act," Clyburn said during a press briefing in the Capitol.
Ever since the Supreme Court gutted sections of the Voting Rights Act, Democrats have pushed to amend the law in ways that continued to protect the franchise - especially for those who have historically faced repeated attempts to challenge their rights. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi laid out the offer Democrats have now put on the table:
"There has been an opportunity for the Republican majority not just to send a condolence card or show up at a service but to translate that into action," Pelosi said. "And we are now segueing from the conversation about the flag to a conversation about voting rights now."
This is exactly the kind of thing Rev. William Barber was talking about.
Taking down the flag is a good thing. But when we look at the voting and policy records of most of the political leaders who helped to lower it, we should be careful with equating its removal as a history-altering event. Systemic racism is alive and well; they show no intention yet of dealing with the fundamental inequalities racism still causes in our society...

Let us be clear about what’s being said: nine Black deaths may get the flag lowered, but it will not get you one pen to sign Medicaid expansion throughout the South, which would save thousands of Black lives. Black deaths will not get full voting rights, which saves Black political power and produces policies that save black, brown and poor white lives. It will not get criminal justice reform, which liberates Black lives. Nor will it get you full funding for public education, a living wage, or economic empowerment that will lift the lives of black people, minorities, and the poor. It will not get gun reform.
What Rep. Clyburn and the Congressional Black Caucus are saying is that they're willing to put aside arguments about symbolism in exchange for some substance on an issue that is the bedrock of civil rights...the right to vote.

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