Occupy Wall Street and Voter Enfranchisement: Possibilities for 2012?

Najah Farley

On October 22, 2011, the New York Times published “The Paradox of the New Elite.” In the opinion article, Alexander Stille, a professor of international journalism, discussed the paradox of the fact that as formerly oppressed groups, such as women, blacks and gays, have been accepted into the mainstream, economic inequality has increased. Stille posited that as these groups have been accepted into the mainstream, economic inequality has become more palatable, because the general public sees those economic gains as a part of the natural meritocracy. Specifically, he states that, “[r]emoving the most blatant forms of discrimination, ironically, made it easier to justify keeping whatever rewards you could obtain through the new, supposedly more meritocratic system.” Stille’s argument is that many groups have been nominally accepted into the mainstream. However, he also recognizes that even though there are more minorities accepted into traditionally elite institutions, these minorities were usually already members of the economic elite. As a result, Stille argues that although traditionally, Americans have seen equal opportunity and equality of condition as separate issues, now, given the growing inequality of wealth and the growing influence of money in Washington, there should be more of a focus on equality of condition along with equal opportunity.

Juxtaposed against this backdrop, the Brennan Center for Justice released a report on voting rights, detailing various efforts to disqualify potential voters in 2012. These efforts have, or will have, a disproportionate effect on poor and minority voters. And surprisingly, many of the states concerned about voter fraud, are also the same states that have historically disenfranchised voters. Risa Goluboff and Dalia Lithwick, in Slate Magazine, argued that these egregious issues should be addressed within the context of the history of Jim Crow. Although the history of Jim Crow should be recognized, perhaps voting rights advocates and others concerned with preserving the right to vote should try to harness the power of movements such as Occupy Wall Street, in the run-up to the election of 2012. These movements are not focused on the power of the ballot, but the focus on increasing economic equality, which could be used to mobilize the young people involved in the movement to add voter enfranchisement into their agenda, as efforts to disenfranchise voters disproportionately affect the economically disenfranchised. Also, because economic power now translates more seamlessly into political power, preserving full enfranchisement for voters is of even greater concern. Another way to ensure that Wall Street does not continue to wield so much power, is to get more minorities, poor and young people to the polls in 2012.


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