Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The millions who couldn't vote on "Super Tuesday"

With yesterday's "Super Tuesday" primaries, it is important to remember that there are millions of people denied the most basic right to vote.

At least 10 percent of the country's population, more than 30 million, have no legal say in the elections. 

The electoral system in the United States is inherently undemocratic, with the political monopoly controlled by the Democrats and Republicans and the hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign donations that ensure a favorable outcome for the wealthy. Still, the civil right of enfranchisement—the right to vote—is out of reach for millions of oppressed people. When a politician from the capitalist parties is aware that you are not a voter, you are invisible. You and your concerns don't count.

Non-citizen immigrants, and many ex-prisoners, constitute the two main sectors of U.S. society who have no right to vote.


In seven states today, ex-prisoners are permanently barred from voting for life, including Mississippi and Florida. In six other states, an ex-prisoner has to be pardoned to regain the right to vote, a highly unlikely prospect. With racist prosecution and sentencing policies in the United States, a much higher percentage of African American and Latino people suffer greater rates of incarceration and disenfranchisement.

For example, in Florida, 38 percent of ex-felons are African American, even though Black people are only about 13% of the population.

In Kentucky, almost one of every 4 African Americans is ineligible to vote because of a previous prison sentence. States with permanent voting bars, which are mostly in the South, thus continue the legacy of mass incarceration after the end of slavery, when prisons replaced plantations and Black people were singled out for persecution and imprisonment.

More than 5 million people in the United States are classified ineligible because of ex-felon status.

It is not an accident nor oversight that the poorest, the most vulnerable and exploited would be deliberately denied. Poor and working people tend to favor more progressive political and economic policies.


My mother, who immigrated from Mexico and is a legal resident, has never been able to vote in 55 years. She worked many years in low-paying, traditional jobs like waitress and seamstress, and certainly contributed to the economy, but like the 30 million other immigrants, has no input in the process. Why is she not a citizen? Like many millions of Mexicans and other immigrants, she always wanted to keep a sentimental connection to her country of origin.

Despite laboring in the most difficult and low-paying jobs in the United States, over 12 million undocumented workers, and more than 17 million permanent legal residents are barred from registering to vote. Despite their enormous and disproportionate contribution to the economy, undocumented workers are increasingly subject to vicious political attacks by the capitalist candidates. The year 2008 will be remembered by the undocumented as one of immigrant-bashing, terrifying workplace raids and deportations.

Every Republican candidate is falling over himself trying to outdo the others with their blatant hatred of the undocumented.

Mike Huckabee, Arkansas ex-governor, shamelessly declares if he were elected president, he would deport all 12 million estimated undocumented workers within 120 days of his assuming office. Mitt Romney is mouthing the same racist threats on workers without papers. And even though John McCain last year was supportive of a nominal legalization process for undocumented workers, he has turned away from that position 180 degrees, to prove himself as the "conservative" candidate.

First, Huckabee and Romney know that it would be impossible to deport all the undocumented, as they have pledged. Second, they also know that the economy would collapse without the farmworkers' labor on which agribusiness depends completely.

The Democrats hardly do better. In the second-to-last television debate, Obama, Clinton and Edwards stated without reservation that each of their "universal healthcare" plans would not include healthcare for the undocumented. That doesn't sound "universal" to me. You can bet that if they have that much disregard for hardworking immigrant workers, they don't think much better of the working class, either.

Their biggest concern is ensuring the profits of the healthcare insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

What hypocrites they all are. The minute they open a bottle of wine from California, New York or any other state's vintners, they are consuming grapes picked by the undocumented. Their vegetables are planted, cultivated and picked by undocumented labor, their prime steaks prepared in packinghouses.

Hotel room maids, restaurant cooks, sweatshop seamstresses, gardeners; well, you get the picture.

The for-profit system

There is one basic, inescapable fact that neither Democrats nor the Republicans will admit or mention:

It is capitalism that has created the "global" economy, exporting tens of millions of jobs abroad to every continent, eliminating higher-paying jobs in the United States. It is U.S. capitalism that has broken down the trade barriers and tariffs of lesser-developed countries like Mexico, turning that country into a huge market for U.S.-produced goods and driving Mexican farmers from their fields and livelihoods.

It is U.S. capitalism that has pauperized the Mexican farmer and factory worker, forcing them to come to the United States, against their will and against their wishes. 

Almost 500 Mexican and other Latinos lose their lives in the desert every year, to seek work. A worker trying to earn a living to help his or her family is not a criminal. It is not a crime to want to work.

The real criminal is the politician who blames the undocumented for the economic problems of the country, and then says not a word about the $40 billion in PROFITS that Exxon made in the last three months of 2007, THE HIGHEST PROFIT OF ANY CORPORATION IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.

None of the candidates dares complain about the sky-high profits of Exxon and the oil companies. They don't dare, because then they would be eliminated from the electoral race in the blink of an eye by the corporate media.

The same way that they can raise minor complaints about the war, but each one of them continues to vote "yes" for every multi-billion-dollar war appropriation sought by Bush.

It is so important for all working people to understand and point to the real cause of economic problems. They are not the fault of any workers, either here or abroad, citizen, resident or undocumented. They are the fault of a system, and the sooner working and poor people of all nationalities organize together to fight that system, the more successful we will be in securing our common rights and needs.

Let us not fall for the divide-and-conquer tactics of the rich. Let's demand equal rights for all workers, regardless of citizenship, full rights, including the right to vote. Let's demand an end to the disenfranchisement of ex-prisoners and immigrants.

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