For Love of Neighbor
This legislative session, the Arkansas Legislature has made it tougher to vote. Well, it made it tougher for some of us to vote. The truth be told, folks like me, white and middle class, won’t have any problem. I’ve got my driver’s license, transportation, a flexible job, plenty of privilege and I know the process of voting. Sadly, that’s not the case for many people. These laws will have a disproportionate impact on low-income voters, disabled voters and voters of color. We know this because these kinds of voting laws have always had a disproportionate impact. After all, Americans have been trying to keep certain populations from voting for as long as people could vote!
Those in power at the birth of our nation wanted only certain kinds of people to vote, and our voter suppression wasn’t subtle. You had to own property, pay taxes, and be a white male. It was in your face and clear for all to see. One person, one vote wasn’t even an aspiration. Then, we as a society got more “sophisticated” with our voter suppression. There were literacy tests – “please recite the constitution in its entirety to prove you can read a ballot.” Poll Taxes, – “Please pay $1.50 on this end of town and then vote on the other end of town.” As a society we’ve shut down polling places in Black neighborhoods creating longer lines and opened them in white ones making shorter lines. The list of tricks to keep the wrong kinds of people from voting is long and well used. And of course, it’s all an elaborate ruse under the guise of “order” and “security” in an already ordered and secure election system. We’re much too sophisticated to say it’s about race. But the conscious denial of it by many, does not make it less racist – it just makes it more hidden for those without eyes.
What’s a follower of Jesus to do when the purpose of these laws has always been clearly seen by those with eyes to see and ears to hear? How do we love God by loving our neighbor in this instance? Sadly, we don’t have to look far in our past to see examples of what to do. There was Virginia Foster Durr, who was born into a racist family and society but became a political activist and fought against poll taxes and fought for civil rights. She housed volunteers who came from the North to disrupt the racist systems of the South and used her political power to advance justice for all. There was Fannie Lou Hamer, a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. She protested, she organized, she spoke the truth. In 1964, she organized the “Freedom Summer” which brought Black and white college students to the South to help register African Americans to vote. In 1965, she marched from Selma to Montgomery in the face of a deadly and violent system which sought to keep her from being fully human- including not letting her vote. This list, among many many others, includes Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and Stacy Abrams. History has plenty of examples of how the saints of God loved God by loving their neighbor – all the way to the voting booth.
Yes, history does give us examples of how we can love our neighbor, but ultimately each generation, and each church, must figure out how to do so for itself. What about Second Baptist? How are we going to love our neighbor in this moment when a hard earned basic right is being chiseled away? Sadly, these new voting laws will place an unreasonable burden on our literal neighbors – those living in Albert Pike, Buffington and Cumberland Towers – primarily people of color, the poor and disabled. In an effort to love our neighbors, 2BC is partnering with the Pulaski County Clerk and other organizations to ensure that each of our neighbors has the opportunity to register to vote, obtain an ID and get to the polls. If this plan seems familiar, it is. After all, it’s the tried and true path of many who have come before us.
If you’d like to be involved in this effort to love our neighbors, please contact Chris Ellis at firstname.lastname@example.org