An Open Letter to Virginia State Senators and Delegates:
Last Friday evening I went to see the movie “Lincoln.” In that film the portrayal of “politics as usual” in the service of a higher end, the passage of the 13th Amendment freeing the slaves, is every bit as relevant today as it has been at least since the early Greek experiments in democracy.
Throughout the history of our great nation, politicians every so often harness “politics as usual” to do something meaningful or more often to stop harmful measures that undermine our freedom and democracy.
Now before the General Assembly are two measures, SB 1256 requiring photo identification for voters despite the absence of fraud in our elections and SB 1077 requiring a check of immigration status. The generally unstated motivation behind this legislation is the desire by some to limit the voting franchise most likely impacting the elderly, particularly those who have surrendered their drivers’ licenses, students , the poor and naturalized citizens.
That some would see advantage in suppressing the vote is not uncommon. Politicians at all levels of government and of all parties would rather see their supporters turn out rather than their opponents’. In Virginia, voter suppression was refined to a crass art by Democrat Harry F. Byrd, Sr. whose virulent racism is a sad chapter in our state’s history.
However, since the beginning of our nation, the ‘arc of history has bent toward justice’ with the extension of voting rights, first to male slaves by President Lincoln with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and then to women with the passage of the 19th Amendment. The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally put the enforcement powers of the federal government behind the rights of African-Americans to vote bringing with it the decline of the Byrd organization and the election of a Republican Governor, Linwood Holdon, Jr.
Today, virtually all Americans embrace these extensions of the voting franchise as essential steps in the evolution of our modern democracy. So why then is the Party of Lincoln today seemingly intent on eroding citizens’ rights with unnecessary restrictions on voting?
In the next week Republicans in the Virginia House and Senate must decide whether politics will be put in service to a higher end with the defeat SB 1256 and SB 1077, or whether “politics as usual” will just be” politics as usual”. Before Virginia’s Senators and Delegates vote they would all benefit from watching the film “Lincoln”.
Glen Besa, Director
Sierra Club-Virginia Chapter