Georgia Black Caucus Boycotts MLK Event Over Voter ID Bill

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(APN) ATLANTA–All Black members of the Georgia General Assembly, the leadership of the House Minority Caucus, US Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), and some members of the King family have boycotted a statewide MLK event in protest of the Georgia House’s passage of a controversial photo ID bill, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

The bill was reintroduced the first day of Georgia’s legislative session, with two new provisions, allowing free state ID for the indigent and opening more offices where people can obtain state Ids. Opponents of the bill contend the changes do not take away from its likely effect of leading to a decrease in voting among the poor, minorities, college students, and elderly.

“I believe it was too great a contradiction to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King in one hour and pass the Georgia photo ID bill in the next,” US Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) said in a press statement obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.

“The photo ID bill is a modern-day poll tax, and the insistence of Georgia Republicans in passing legislation that will disenfranchise thousands of elderly, disabled, rural, poor and minority voters in Georgia is a stain on our democracy,” Rep. Lewis said.

“The proposed practice eliminates twelve (12) forms of identification accepted under the benchmark [or current] practice, and adds one (1) new form, resulting in six (6)… forms of acceptable identification,” wrote US Department of Justice (USDOJ) staff attorneys in a memo obtained by the Washington Post in November 2005.

The six (6) types of acceptable forms of Voter ID under the controversial bill are: state ID, any ID issued by a government agency, military ID, state employee ID, passport, and tribal ID.

The twelve (12) forms of ID which would be eliminated are: college ID; gun license; pilot’s license; birth certificate; social security card; naturalization information for immigrants; copy of court records showing name change, adoption, or sex change; utility bill; bank statement; other government documentation; and government check or payment.

“John [Lewis] is always on the right side. I thought that was a profound statement on John’s part,” State Rep. Douglas Dean told Atlanta Progressive News, on the first boycott of its kind.

“We boycotted the Friday King celebration that we always have [otherwise celebrated]. The Martin Luther King Commission set it up as part of the national celebration. We’ve been doing this for several years,” Dean said.

“But I believe if Dr. King was living that he would have boycotted this birthday celebration because of the behavior of Republicans in the House of Representatives on the Voter ID bill,” Dean said.

“It’s obvious Republicans don’t feel the pain minorities have gone through in Georgia to enjoy the freedom of this country,” Dean said. “And I’m going to start being more vocal on this,” he added.

The boycott focuses on a particular event which is affiliated with the state legislature. Those who are boycotting that event are still planning to attend other weekend events such as the program at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

“I’m going to the King celebration at Ebenezer Church in the morning, but I have no desire to continue try to support the General Assembly when they continue to violate our rights and there’s no input by minorities,” Rep. Dean told Atlanta Progressive News.

“To talk about honoring Dr. King on Friday when on Thursday they voted to approve a Voter ID bill, something [against what] Dr. King… and many Black Africans… have even given their life for–to have the opportunity to vote– we though this was very hypocritical of Republicans,” Rep. Dean said.

The bill’s status in the State Senate was still pending for a vote as of Friday. Meanwhile, the courts have issued an injunction on implementing the bill in Georgia, based on the version passed last year. Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin both opposed the legislation, according to USDOJ documents.

As reported previously by APN, the USDOJ staff attorneys’ recommendations against the bill were overruled. Staff attorneys also found that the bill’s Republican sponsor, Rep. Sue Burmeister, provided misinformation about the availability of photo Id. Burmeister also advocated for the bill because she stated she had previously been offered Black people’s votes for money.

Other objections to the Voter ID bill are numerous. First, there is the cost of public transportation which can be up to $3.50 on MARTA. Second, there is a current lack of places to get voter Ids. Third, those offices issuing Ids are only open during business hours when working people are on the clock. Fourth, people need to have certain Ids in order to get a state ID, including either a passport, birth certificate, court documents, or naturalization papers. Fifth, birth certificate copies cost at least $10, passports are not free either, and some Georgia residents were not born in hospitals and don’t have birth certificates, according to the USDOJ.

Matthew Cardinale is the Editor of Atlanta Progressive News. He may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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