Recently I had the pleasure of attending the Fremont Days Parade in Fremont. Undoubtedly one of the most memorable entries in that parade was First District Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s enormous entourage, which included an all-black drum and dance team.
These youth were incredibly talented, and, to most parade-goers, their marching with Fortenberry probably stood as testament to the congressman’s commitment to diversity and equality. Unfortunately, they would have been mistaken.
Just three days earlier, Fortenberry had voted for amendments intended to weaken the Voting Rights Act of 1965 upon its renewal. By doing so, he turned his back on the centuries-long struggle for civil rights, choosing to stand with his party’s far-right fringe rather than the legacy and sacrifice of leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.
Fortenberry owes an apology to Nebraska’s entire black community, whose children’s talent he is willing to exploit in a parade but whose rights he is not willing to protect in Congress.
Now, right off the bat, I have to admit something that might color ones response to this letter - I'm white. As such, there is some question whether I have any right to demand an apology for a population of which I am not even a member. Do I have any right to be offended on the "black community's" behalf?
Well, I could see it either way - as a citizen and a human being, I don't think there's anything wrong with standing up for one another. Still, if anyone really believes this is improper or exploitative, I could probably see where they're coming from.
It's a perplexing question that truly reflects the debate earlier this week ("debate" giving the level of discourse far too much credit) - when is the act of pointing out hypocrisy and exploitation itself an act of hypocrisy and exploitation?
Well, so far the responses to my letter haven't gotten that big picture - which is probably for the best. Such a complicated issue - for me, at any rate - can't really be done justice in the throwaway back-and-forth of most online discussions. But, let's see what some folks have to say:
Gerard Harbison wrote: "Nice job, Kyle, taking talking points directly from the nebraskademocrats.org web page and getting them published as a 'letter'. Actually, one amendment was to insist on English only ballots. Could someone explain how that impacts Nebraska's black community?"
To Professor Harbison, I would say that the Voting Rights Act was all about expanding the franchise. It is an abuse of the VRAs legacy to now use it as a means of excluding voters - no matter their skin color or the language they speak - especially with so sick a purpose as scoring political points with anti-immigration activists.
That said, thank you for directing people to the Nebraska Democrats' website. Since our newspapers do such a poor job of covering Congressional votes and putting them in context, I did have to learn about Fortenberry's votes from the NDPs Blog, but I guess I don't see where any talking points were lifted. Not a bad way of undercutting a writer's credibility, though - how very O'Reillian/Orwellian!!!
Mad Democrats wrote: "I'm a minority and Democrats take my vote for granted. Well, wrong folks. You haven't advanced the Civil Rights movement in 45 yrs and I am voting Republican. Thank you Congressman Fortenberry for being a uniter and not a divider."
Fortenberry's "a uniter and not a divider"? Only if the same holds true of George W. Bush, who's spent the last 6 years making a mockery of that claim. They are welcome to the claim - I prefer the principle.
CS wrote: "I don't see how voting on an Act that is irrelevent eccept that it gets minority blowhards 5 seconds in the spotlight is doing the Republicans or Democrats any favors. I know I haven't observed any voter testing or income means testing going on-or voting lines for blacks and whites. Its an election year, folks, look how 'busy' our legislators are on 'important' issues."
The VRA was a landmark action 40 years ago, and we are still not where we need to be. Anyone who's paid attention to the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections knows about the intense voter suppression efforts that continue to this day, especially in black communities. Since when does standing up for your rights - and the rights of all Americans - make a person a "blowhard"?
Concerned and Offended wrote: "I am offended by today’s “Letter to the Editor.” It is hardly a letter, but rather a contrived rant seeking to objectify a racial group in pursuit of public policy objectives. A group of talented, young people should have the right to demonstrate their support for whichever candidate they choose. Those students chose Congressman Fortenberry as their representative. The author of today’s “letter” claims to be concerned about protecting political expression and freedom, but instead disrespects the political expression of these talented and engaged citizens. Instead of demanding an apology from our Congressman, Kyle should apologize to these students."
"A contrived rant...in pursuit of public policy objectives." Hello, Mr. Pot. Good to see you again. Love, Mr. Kettle.
Al Jolson wrote: "Kyle, I definitely didn't need to hear from somebody with a chip on their shoulder talking about minority voting rights. As a white male, I will be in the minority in the future was will Mr. Fortenberry. Will you be so willing to stand up for my rights when that time comes, Kyle?"
You're damn right I'll stand up for your/our rights. And, when this day comes, I think we'll all be better off with a strong VRA there, engrained in America's political consciousness. It's Fortenberry who's neglecting the Golden Rule here - not me.
If any more responses come in, I'll post those and continue to answer in-kind. Isn't this fun?