An incisive look at the many issues surrounding the right to vote.
Berman (Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, 2010), a contributing writer for the Nation and investigative journalism fellow at the Nation Institute, tracks the struggle to gain the vote, from Reconstruction, the backlash of Jim Crow, and the 1960s, when it all seemed to come together. The 1965 march across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge was a tipping point. Before then, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson felt voting changes would endanger the president’s Great Society project. The horror and brutality of that day changed everything, and the most liberal Congress since the New Deal passed the Voting Rights Act. After Johnson signed the act in August 1965, he said that the South was lost to the Democratic Party for the next generation. He was absolutely right. What he didn’t foresee was the opening of the floodgates to deny and disenfranchise voters across the South and well beyond. The author recounts how the act enabled the Department of Justice to gain ground through three generations of cases. They outlawed literacy tests and poll taxes, dismantled gerrymandered districts and at large elections, and fought for a fair share of political power. This emotional book runs the gamut from great joy at the quest accomplished in 1965 to pride at the success of the judicial system in upholding voting rights to disbelief as the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush courts shattered 50 years of work. Voter ID laws, shortened early polling days, and voter roll purges are just the latest tactics in a fight that continues.
Not just a compelling history, but a cry for help in the recurring struggle to gain what is supposed to be an inalienable right.