Give Us the Ballot: by Ari Berman

Be warned – Give Us the Ballot is a powerful book,  but it’s not exactly an unbiased approach to the history of the Voting Rights Act.   This doesn’t bother me because there are a lot of  books out there by conservatives to counter the argument and or the situations.    Ari Berman, political correspondent for The Nation,  tells the story of the Voting RIghts Act of 1965 (like 50 years ago!),  the violent events leading up to its passage and its effects,  the counterrevolution of neo-conservatism of Reagan, Bush and on through 2015,  one year or so after the Supreme Court voted down the whole formula which was established in 1965 –

give us

Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America
by Ari Berman
2015/362 pages
read by Tom Zingarelli 12h 4m
rating:  10 –  politics 
(read and listened) 

This is a compelling and lively tale of civil rights marches, political battles and resistance at all levels and over a significant amount of time all pertaining to the Voting Rights Bill of 1965,  it’s most important section (section 5) is a killer.      But it’s a book which requires thought and effort as the pieces come together – ideas like how Affirmative Action got involved in basic Civil Rights and how the various presidential administrations and neo-conservatives opposed anything about the Voting Rights Act beyond “let them vote,”  (if they can).     In other words, the Conservatives seem to say,   “Stop worrying about actual representation and/or  voter ID”  (which is like the new “poll tax.)

Berman also writes about the resistance – the “Counterrevolution”  every single step of the way from whether or not blacks in the south could even register to vote through  how districts could be gerry-mandered to maintain the white majority status quo and how race-based voter suppression can be attained (maintained) by a number of methods.   The conservatives have used ferocious physical tactics as well as state legislative action,  the Department of  Justice,  the Supreme Court and, finally,  time  to push their agenda.   This is in large part because the Reagan appointees to the courts (including the Supreme Court)  made a huge impact even unto 2015.

The organization is not strictly chronological although that’s the basic outline for it.   And the book is heavy on detail and specifics,  so the organization is not terribly “tight.”   It works though because the chapter headings tell the reader what that section is basically covering.  And I’m not sure how else the scope and depth could been covered.

There has been so much violence and shenanigans,  so much legislation and so many people and court rulings and DOJ findings that some of the names, dates, places and ideas come up over and over.   However,  odd as it seems,   the same people were often involved on both sides.   Still,  even with all that, there’s surprisingly little actual repetition  – except that the same types of things keep happening over and over with new twists until … the whole thing is a mess –  not at all what the Voting Rights Act had in mind.

So the history is what’s probably important here – how the use of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has changed the problems and the tactics, if not the underlying rationale, of those opposed.  And even though times have changed and there has been some improvement –  the possibility of falling back to post-Reconstruction days is too close for comfort – Berman tries to end on a positive note,   but in the view of recent developments which the VRB could have prevented at one time,   but now can’t, the real outlook is not rosy at all.



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