There are a lot of injustices occurring in Ferguson, Missouri currently: an unarmed black man was killed with his hands up, protesters have been attacked with tear gas and rubber bullets, and journalists have been arrested for trying to cover the events. Even state Republicans are furious!
Alas, it’s none of the aforementioned problems that prompted the head of Missouri Republicans to call the situation “disgusting.” He saved that charged descriptor for a series of voter registration drives taking place in Ferguson.
What’s the problem, exactly? According to some Republicans, this is a case of political opportunism. How DARE people pursue their protected right to register to vote? And how dare “liberals” (although it’s not clear that registration efforts have been partisan) enable the black community to vote?
“If that’s not fanning the political flames, I don’t know what is,” said Matt Wills, the Executive Director of the Missouri Republicans. “I think it’s not only disgusting but completely inappropriate.”
Actually, it seems entirely appropriate. With conservative pundits decrying “rioting” by locals, wouldn’t permitting Ferguson residents to vote for the change they want to see be a preferable, more “civil” approach?
Democracy is (theoretically, anyway) designed to provide people with the type of leaders they want. Currently, the majority of people in Ferguson are displeased with a violent, unsympathetic police force and a mayor who denied the existence of racial tension in his clearly divided town. Voting would enable Ferguson citizens to change the people in power without force.
In the last election, just 12% of eligible voters turned out to vote in Ferguson. This low participation is undoubtedly a large part of the reason that almost all of Ferguson’s elected officials and police officers are Caucasian in a town where 60% of the population is African American.
Wills elaborated, “Injecting race into this conversation and into this tragedy, not only is not helpful, but it doesn’t help a continued conversation of justice and peace.” Ignore, for a moment, the fact that the problem in Ferguson is very fundamentally about race. The fact that Wills is calling out people who register voters for “injecting race” into the community just shows how terrified he is of African Americans exercising their right to vote.
Indeed, African American voter suppression in Missouri is real. Disenfranchisement is a large part of why these tensions exist within the Ferguson community to begin with, so the supposed “opportunism” Missouri Republicans are alleging seems more accurately a potential solution.
There’s hardly a bad reason to register to vote. If the people of Ferguson are more motivated than ever to take back control of their community through democratic means, more power to them.