Not so very long ago, another generation of Georgia politicians tried to persuade anti-racism activists that state legislators were striving for equity when passing controversial, restrictive laws.
In regulating amateur baseball, Georgia state lawmakers agreed that, “It shall be unlawful for any amateur white baseball team to play baseball on any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of a playground devoted to the Negro race, and it shall be unlawful for any amateur colored baseball team to play baseball in any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of any playground devoted to the white race,” according to numerous citations.
Into the 1960s, when this “Jim Crow” segregation law was finally repealed, it would have been unthinkable that a league baseball team or pick-up game among friends would have traveled into parts of Georgia “reserved” for Black residents, and then played ball. What the racist law was clearly intended to do was to keep any Black person from wandering into parts of town exclusively reserved for white people to play baseball in inarguably superior “white” parks.
The argument for this and other Jim Crow laws in Georgia at the time, affecting barbers, interracial marriage, restaurants and even mental hospitals, were touted as ways to protect the integrity of institutions, fairly and equitably. There were thousands of elected officials who fought hard to persuade others that there truly was virtue and equity in all things “separate but equal.”
That was the racists’ “truth.”
Georgia Republican lawmakers and GOP Gov. Brian Kemp are trying to make the same arguments about changes in their state voting laws that clearly and shamelessly restrict the ease and access of voting “equally” among everyone in Georgia.
“I am telling you the truth,” Kemp told a public radio reporter last week. “It expands access.”
Whom to believe? Your own eyes, ears and good sense or a group of lawmakers who just weeks ago actively worked to overturn legitimate presidential election results and perpetrate a fraud on the state, and the nation?
In a stunning November upset, Georgia voters gave Democrat Joe Biden an electoral college surprise by ending decades of conservative tradition and snubbing Republican Donald Trump. Soon after, Georgia voters elected two Democratic senators in hard-fought runoff elections.
It was a remarkable win in the middle of unparalleled histrionics among Trump and his supporters, who repeatedly lied about widespread voter fraud and chaos in Georgia and other states.
It is unequivocal that in Georgia, and across the country, there was no evidence then nor now of widespread voter fraud. The fraud was perpetrated by Trump and his cronies, trying to throw the election for their own nefarious gains.
And Georgia was in the thick of the lies, distractions and an inter-Republican battle to find a way to allow Trump to cheat.
So when Kemp insists he speaks the “truth” about election changes, these new Georgia laws cannot be examined outside of that reality.
The new Georgia laws were clearly created to make voting more difficult for everyone. But the reality is, poorer people — disproportionately people of color — who do not have the liberty and resources to battle state bureaucracies and senseless voting rules to cast their ballots, traditionally give up that battle first. No vote from a Democrat is a winning vote for Republicans.
That’s the truth. That’s why in Colorado, voting has been made equally easy and accessible for everyone. Every registered voter gets a mailed ballot. Every registered voter gets plenty of time to receive, complete and return the ballot. Every registered voter has easily accessible places to return ballots, close to home.
The result? More voters of every persuasion vote in greater numbers, across the entire state. Voter participation in Colorado is among the highest in the country. And despite repeated, unfounded allegations, even staunch Republican prosecutors here have never turned up more than an odd case or two of voter “fraud.”
Despite that evidence, and as other states like Colorado expand mail-voter access, many states have found it easy to suppress voter participation among poor people and people of color simply by blocking ways to make voting as convenient and secure as possible.
That is the truth Kemp and other Georgia Republicans omit from their own version of reality.
What most conservatives and liberals agree on, is that voting is among the most critical and fundamental of rights in the United States.
While racist laws preventing the freedom of hair cuts and pick-up baseball games are abhorrent, racist laws preventing the fundamental right to vote are intolerable. Suppressing the votes of the poor and Black voters in Georgia directly impacts citizens across the nation.
Such unrestrained racism and discrimination certainly warrants not only outrage among the rest of the country, it also justifies actions taken by Major League Baseball and large corporations in an effort to combat efforts of Republicans to throw further elections in that state.
“That’s why we are concerned about many aspects of Georgia’s new “Election Integrity Act,” Microsoft officials said in a statement.
“We are concerned by the law’s impact on communities of color, on every voter, and on our employees and their families. We share the views of other corporate leaders that it’s not only right but essential for the business community to stand together in opposition to the harmful provisions and other similar legislation that may be considered elsewhere.”
Kemp and other Republicans say they’re outraged corporations like Microsoft and, now, Major League Baseball, have “politicized” the issue by intervening.
Critics of corporate complaints rightfully point out that Black people and the poor are equally endangered by threats of boycotts and political pressure to reverse the clear attempt at voter suppression.
They’re right, and that’s not the kind of equality the nation should be striving for. But without these and even greater acts of rebellion from clear-sighted corporations, the rights of voters in Georgia will be diminished and lawmakers there will have the power to influence and throw future elections, continuing this and other policies that clearly undermine the rights of Black people and the poor in Georgia.
Is there risk in adversely affecting innocent people in an effort to hold elected officials accountable for racist moves. In the short term, yes. There is, however, far too much at risk to lose, and too much to gain by these efforts.
Colorado lawmakers and corporations should join Coca Cola, Delta Airlines, Microsoft and Major League Baseball in forcing Georgia to undo their racist and unconstitutional attempts to limit the rights of all voters, effectively suppressing the votes mostly of Black and poor Georgians.
That is the truth Kemp hasn’t shared.