Left Turns: A week of political stew

Left Turns: A week of political stew

June 29th, 2013 in Opinion Times

It's been a busy -- and in most cases not progressive -- week in American politics.

While gay rights received boosts from two landmark Supreme Court rulings, the Texas State Senate showed the nation there still is a long way to go for women to have equal access to their own health decisions. And after the Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act, minority voters across the nation may face considerably more hurdles to have a voice in politics in coming years.

No one has ever said democracy was easy, and certainly it hasn't been pretty of late.

In the same week Texas executed its 500th death row inmate, lawmakers there pursued an agenda to close clinics helping women end unwanted pregnancies. And in the same week Supreme Court justices intimated racial equality has grown beyond a need for protection of voting rights, a national icon cook in Georgia acknowledged she still has used the "n-word." And in Florida, the Trayvon Martin murder trial offers a daily-life dose of racial fear and loathing far more telling than any reality TV show could dramatize.

With so much happening in this single week to shape our sense of equality -- or not -- we asked some contributing writers to Left Turns to examine what current events have wrought.

-- The Times

Andrae McGary

Former Chattanooga City Councilman

On voting rights

It was bound to happen.

The U.S. Supreme Court hinted at it in deciding a Texas case in 2009, that a ruling on the current state of voter discrimination was nearly impossible using 40-year-old data of historical poll taxes and voter identification hurdles. Without fresh data, wrote Justice Roberts, the prevailing side "[was] left without an alternative." The result? Tuesday's 5-4 decision to strike down a major section of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Clearly, the ruling shows, data makes a difference, but the court didn't answer what new data might be valid. That leaves it to Congress, where some members already are looking to make voting harder.

Suddenly we're not having conversations about legislation to address the current condition of discrimination. Instead we are asking how we feel about voter discrimination. We sound off about topics ranging from voter ID laws to whether President Obama won solely on the black vote. In short, we are talking about everything and nothing.

That says much about how far we really have come. Ask Justices Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas should the Voting Rights Act stand on sheer emotional appeal, Congress' reauthorization in 2006, or even the recently upheld federal discrimination cases. Their answer: "No. We want data."

Seen from this perspective, the "disappointing" verdict is anything but.

If Texas and others feel emboldened to try their hand at passing laws they deem non-discriminatory, let them. Their actions and those of ensuing copycats will easily make the case for the need of a revised Voting Rights Act.

All we have to do is let the data speak for itself.

Mary Fortune

Media writing instructor at UTC

On Wendy Davis' Texas stand

She couldn't win. We knew she couldn't win. Even after 13 hours on her feet, even after the bill was defeated when the Senate missed its midnight voting deadline by two minutes, we knew. She couldn't win.

But Texas Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat, had something to say. And for 13 hours, she said it. In a chamber where she was clearly outnumbered, in a state where women's rights are constantly under attack, she stood and she spoke and she fought. She made sure she was heard.

Smug Texas Republicans assumed their bill that would shutter all but five of the 42 abortion clinics in their vast state would sail through the conservative legislature. They waited until the last day of the session to introduce it in the Senate. Wendy Davis stood up. And stayed up.

Like thousands of others, I was transfixed by this insistent, outnumbered woman speaking her mind against impossible odds. Not just because I believe in her message, not just because I'm with her on this issue. But because I'm a liberal feminist in a state dominated by strident conservatives. It takes real strength to stand up.

After she and supporters beat the clock and the bill died, Gov. Rick Perry called a special session for Monday. Soon the bill will pass, and many women who want access to safe, legal abortion in Texas will have fewer options. The women in the most need will be those with the fewest choices.

But things only change when we stand up, no matter the odds. Wendy Davis stood up. Maybe she couldn't win this time. But I expect she's just getting started.

Joda Thongnopnua

Co-founder of UNFoundation, former campaign manager for Chris Anderson

On gay rights

This week has been a landmark one for marriage equality. The Supreme Court ruled that the section of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as a union between only a man and a woman was unconstitutional in a 5-4 vote.

Tennesseans live in one of the 38 states where there is no avenue for gay marriage -- in fact, it's constitutionally prohibited. Still, the Supreme Court's lukewarm verdict in the California Proposition 8 case means that while federal benefits will be extended to folks in same-sex marriages, it may be awhile before we hear gay and lesbian wedding bells in our own state.

Certainly there is more work to be done in our legislatures, cities and homes. LGBT teens are still several times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers. The federal government and most states (including Tennessee) still don't protect gay, lesbian, or transgender employees.

But things are changing.

Collegedale agreed to provide benefits for same-sex couples in a 4-1 vote earlier this week. Chattanooga City Councilman Chris Anderson, the first openly gay elected official to win a contested election in Tennessee, announced that Chattanooga, too, is exploring equitable benefit provisions.

It's exciting to see a progressive vision take shape in a state that previously received national attention for hateful and bigoted legislation.

LGBT Americans (and those of us who count ourselves as allies) won big this week, and I get excited knowing that someday I will celebrate the weddings of some of my closest friends and family -- right here in Tennessee.