There is one man that is being heralded by some as a savoir to America. Let’s make America great again! I will restore this great country to it’s former glory! I will run this country like one of my many (some failed) businesses and we will be great! Great, great, great!
I’m here to pose a question to you, when was America ever great?
That might be an easy question for you to answer, if you are a white male living in America today, but the answer is not so simple for the vast majority of Americans and those living in our country.
If you take a look at American voting rights throughout American history, you can follow the fight for equality and try to decipher when exactly America was so great.
Was America great when a room full of white men signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776? The only people who were allowed to vote were property owners, meaning mostly white male Protestants over the age of 21.
How about in 1790 when the Naturalization Law was passed, stating that only “free white” immigrants can become naturalized citizens and therefore have the right to vote.
In 1848, the Mexican-American war came to a close and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed. This gave US citizenship to Mexicans living in territories previously conquered by America. This Treaty however did not give these citizens the right to vote due to English language requirements and violent intimidation.
Was America great in 1870? The 15th amendment to the constitution was passed meaning that the right to vote cannot be denied by the federal or state government based on race. Did this end voter discrimination? Absolutely not. States began to enact their own measures including voting taxes and literacy tests that restricted the ability of minorities to vote. Again, violence and intimidation tactics were used.
In 1876, the Supreme Court ruled that Native Americans are not citizens in their own country, and therefore do not have the right to vote.
In 1882, America approved the Chinese Exclusion Act. It was the first significant law restricting immigration to the United States. Federal laws now forbid entry of an ethnic working group on the premise that they endangered the good order of certain neighborhoods. For those Chinese who had already entered the country, if they ever left the United States they had to obtain certifications to re-enter. Congress, moreover, refused State and Federal courts the right to grant citizenship to Chinese resident aliens, although these courts could still deport them. This act turned into the Geary Act, which was made permanent in 1902 and regulated Chinese immigration until the 1920’s.
In 1887, America passed the Dawes Act. Basically, Native Americans could have citizenship if they gave up their tribal affiliations and “assimilated”. It sought to break up reservations by granting land allotments to individuals. Section 8 of the act excluded the following groups specifically: Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles, and Osage, Miamies and Peorias, and Sacs and Foxes, in the Indian Territory, nor to any of the reservations of the Seneca Nation of New York Indians in the State of New York, nor to that strip of territory in the State of Nebraska adjoining the Sioux Nation on the south. While the act was meant to protect property rights during the land rushes of the 1890’s, it had very different results. “The land allotted to the Indians included desert or near-desert lands unsuitable for farming. In addition, the techniques of self-sufficient farming were much different from their tribal way of life. Many Indians did not want to take up agriculture, and those who did want to farm could not afford the tools, animals, seed, and other supplies necessary to get started. There were also problems with inheritance. Often young children inherited allotments that they could not farm because they had been sent away to boarding schools. Multiple heirs also caused a problem; when several people inherited an allotment, the size of the holdings became too small for efficient farming.”
Was it great in 1890 when America forced natives to APPLY for citizenship on their own land? Please welcome the Indian Naturalization Act. Any member of an Indian tribe in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) was now allowed to become a US citizen by applying for that status in federal court. This act at least allowed them to keep both US citizenship as well as tribal citizenship.
In 1920, less than 100 years ago, The 19th amendment was passed. Women were finally able to vote. Was America great then? Several generations of women’s suffrage supporters had lectured, wrote, marched, lobbied, and practiced civil disobedience just for the right to vote in their own country.
How about in 1922, when the Supreme Court ruled that people of Japanese heritage were ineligible to become naturalized citizens in Takao Ozawa vs. the United States? In the following year of 1923, “Asian Indians” were also found not eligible.
Was it great in 1926 when a group of black women were beaten by election officials while attempting to register to vote in Birmingham, Alabama?
Was America great in 1952, when those with Asian ancestry were finally able to become citizens and vote?
In 1966, civil rights activist James Meredith was shot by a sniper during a “Walk Against Fear” voter registration march between Tennessee and Mississippi. Was that great?
Was America great in 1975? The first year that voting materials were printed in languages other than English, allowing those not fluent the ability to vote.
In 2000, residents of US colonies such as Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the US Virgin Islands are known as citizens, however they still do not have the right to vote. That’s 4.1 millions US citizens total who are not eligible to vote and do not have voting representation in congress.
Was America great in 2001, when nearly 4 million citizens cannot vote due to past felony convictions? Some states allow those with past convictions to vote, however most Southern states bar them for life. How is a law that is a legacy of post-Civil war attempts to prevent African-Americans from voting great? Most of those convicted are poor and people of color. You can thank the war on drugs (Nixon, Reagan, & Clinton) for that.
How about in 2002 when America was still fighting election inconsistency and voting standards? The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed in response to disputes over the presidential election. This required states to comply with federal mandates for voting standards for the first time.
Even more recently in the 2008 and 2016 elections election fraud is rampant and documented. What is so great about America being surrounded by fraudulency?
There is still a law today in Indiana held up by the Supreme Court, which requires all voters to show a photo ID when they cast their ballot. This law is an undue burden on the right to vote, particularly with minority and elderly citizens. Voter suppression is never great.
This brief timeline of American voting rights shows prevalent fear mongering, racism, violent and oppressive tactics, and incongruity between federal and state voter laws. The United States is known by many as a melting pot, a term that I was taught during my primary education. Can we really uphold that title with the slew of ethnocentric issues affecting citizenship and voting rights in our past and today? Will we ever be able to be a land of inclusion, generosity, and empathy?
Think about what you are afraid of most and whether you have extensive knowledge on that topic. Why are we afraid of what we don’t know? Why do we feel the need to push away from those that have different viewpoints from our own? Listening to others and understanding their struggles, conflicts, and emotions is a key factor in extending your own consciousness. No harm will come from extending compassion, empathy, and understanding and you will be a better person for it.
No matter your feelings on the subject, immigration is a known key factor influencing economic growth and development. Will we be able to open our minds and pop our bubble and look outside of ourselves for knowledge and growth? Nations that are more immigrant-friendly have higher levels of overall economic competitiveness as new minds bring new innovation. Innovation in turn leads to economic growth. Why are Americans so scared of taking on refugees? Why are we so scared of allowing those that have entered our country illegally to gain citizenship? The foul-mouthed Cheez-It claiming that he wants to make America great again wants to build a wall to “protect” our borders and keep out the “rapists” allegedly bringing only drugs and crime. He wants to end sanctuary cities which he claims harbor “dangerous” immigrants who are only here to commit crimes. He wants to deport people doing honest labor and trying to gain citizenship through all of the correct channels in this country (which by the way is no easy or cheap feat). According to Ben Casselman at FiveThirtyEight, “Immigration is the only thing keeping the U.S. from facing a Japan-style demographic cliff,” meaning that immigrants are keeping our aging population young. He also states,“Immigrants help the economy in other ways too: They are more likely than native-born Americans to start businesses, and because they pay Social Security but only receive benefits if they stay in the country permanently, they help ease the U.S.’s long-run fiscal burden”.
America was never great. If you agree with suppression, oppression, and hate, then you may think otherwise. The power has always been in the hands of the oppressor and does not include those who helped build the very ground that the oppressors walk so highly on. We’re at a precipice right now, a major tipping point in our story. Come November 8th, we are either going to fall over that edge into the abyss of making America great “again” or we are going to boast a major milestone electing a woman president of the United States. Make your voice heard, vote for progressives and progressive ideas down the ballot, and research before you cast your vote. Which side of history would you like to be on? I challenge you to recognize the forces that cause inequality and oppression including sexism, racism, and classism. Make America BETTER than before.
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