We took our grandchildren to the Newseum today, and I would recommend it to anyone contemplating a trip to DC. It is a fabulous museum–not at all a dusty repository of newsprint, but an interactive, living testament to the practice of journalism. For our 8 and 10 year olds, there were numerous “games” and short films that buried instruction in entertainment–snapshots of the past as seen through the eyes of those who covered the events.
One of the short films focused on the Freedom Riders, the Birmingham boycott and Selma. Our grandchildren were shocked and uncomprehending, and we had a long talk about the treatment of African-Americans, segregation and the Ku Klux Klan.
The film clip also showed President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act. The voice-over explained that in many Southern states, ways had been found to keep black people from voting, necessitating a federal law securing their right to cast their ballots.
All I could think of was how contemporary this sounded.
Indiana passed one of the first so-called “Voter ID” laws, justified by a need to reduce a non-existent “voter fraud,” but actually intended to suppress the vote of the poor and minority citizens who vote disproportionately for Democrats. Other states have followed suit. Most recently–and most brazenly–Governor Rick Scott of Florida ordered a draconian “purge” of that swing state’s voter rolls–so draconian, and so indiscriminate (hundreds of eligible voters found themselves summarily removed from the rolls), that the state’s county election officials–Republican and Democrat alike–refused to implement it, and the U.S. Justice Department has sued to halt it.
States may not be able to employ the Poll Tax any more, but these measures have proved to be very serviceable substitutes.
I thought about that while I was assuring my grandchildren that the law signed by President Johnson secured the right to vote for all our citizens. What I didn’t have the heart to tell them was that when you close a door that is being used by dishonorable people, they’re likely to find an open window to wriggle through.
Jefferson was sure right about one thing: eternal vigilance really is the price of liberty.