Deceit and corruption don’t always look outrageous. Corruption can look a lot like organized laws. Deceit can happen at the hands of the powerful, who wear the masks of our country’s leaders.
Former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams’ Our Time Is Now exposes a flawed democratic system, one that suppresses votes to meet a biased agenda. Abrams offers hard evidence that equality has been somewhat of a myth for a large portion of the American population. Her ideas insist hope lies in the collective community, and change happens when we grant everyone a voice.
Watching her grandparents and parents trudge through the long road of unnecessary resistance, Abrams’ passion for an individual’s rights came at a young age. Abrams remembers her grandfather, “a slender bantam of a man, [who] served in World War II as a navy cook and fought as a boxer during his tour. When he got drafted into the Korean War, he did his duty again, knowing the entire time that he was returning to the segregation and racial venom of the Deep South. Bitterness fought with practicality as he returned twice to a country that denied him basic civil rights.” Abrams’ father experienced undisguised suppression. His rights as a contributing citizen were withheld because of the color of his skin.
But in 1965, the Voting Rights Act aimed to create voting equality where there was none, or at least was supposed to. Abrams writes, “[F]ull citizenship rights are the bare minimum one should expect from the government. Yet, for two-thirds of our history, full citizenship was denied to those who built this country theory to life. African slaves and Chinese workers and Native Americans environmentalists and Latino gauchos and Irish farmers and half the population: women.” This is all a part of our learned history. A history that unfortunately continues to repeat itself. Abrams argues segregation is very much alive, but it’s organized, clean, unassuming.
When Abrams was a freshman in college, she went across campus encouraging minorities to sign a petition ensuring voter registration and was, not surprisingly, met with a lot of unmotivated individuals who were convinced their vote didn’t matter. Her interest in voter participation started here, but led her somewhere much more intriguing and much more critical.
Voter suppression is a form of segregation. It strips any slight progression towards equality. Abrams writes, “real access to the right to vote isn’t a guarantee, and that’s a problem.” Abrams goes on to discuss loopholes and stipulations put on our original U.S. Constitution. She argues that leaving discretion of voting laws up to the state opened the opportunity for the manipulation of laws at the hands of those resistant to inclusiveness. On top of that Abrams writes, “the generational underfunding of the basic mechanics of elections, where incompetence and malfeasance operate in tandem, and the sheer complexity of the national voting apparatus smooths suppression into a nearly seamless operation.” Maybe the large population discouraged to vote isn’t an unfortunate cause of negligence; maybe it’s the outcome of a well-planned system, designed to filter out those that a handful of people deem unworthy of the very basic right to vote.
Abrams discusses the ways this suppression shows its face, like laws passed that aim to deter a specific demographic, laws meant to protect the vulnerable suspiciously terminated at convenient points in time, the expiring right to vote, literacy tests, voting purges, rejecting ballots for things like “incorrect signature match.” The list goes on. It’s no surprise, Abrams points out, that many of these voter stipulations are more prevalent in states where segregation has historically run rampant. The connection between states with a long history of suppression and impossible voter stipulations is an unequivocally heinous truth.
Abrams successfully challenges the notion of universal equality in America, recognizing it does not currently exist; however, she doesn’t leave it there. She puts forth ideas and actions for moving forward. After losing the 2018 election for Governor of Georgia, a fire started in Abrams as she saw, firsthand, this masked suppression. Her words in Our Time Is Now move towards you, forcing you to analyze where you fit into this reality.
The truth is, her evidence of voter suppression doesn’t surprise me. Somewhere inside me, witnessing and experiencing what I have as a minority myself, it feels inevitable—a silent inevitability I’m aware of but don’t discuss. That’s the real devastating part. Fear lives in all of us, and throughout history, fear exposes itself through the character of everyone. The powerful use fear to construct an organized operation to deem who belongs and who doesn’t, for fear of being overrun, for fear that the outcome won’t be in their favor anymore. The oppressed fear the power. The oppressed submit because they fear the alternative. If only a portion of power was relinquished in pursuit of the muted voices, what a powerful shift that would make in our country. Abrams is a dreamer, willing to provide the steps necessary to reach and mend, as she puts it, the “soul of America.”
Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America
By Stacey Abrams
Henry Holt and Company
Published June 9, 2020