Book Review: Give Us the Ballot

BermanThe word “progressive” got bandied about more this year than it has in a while.

Who is a progressive? Who is a “real” progressive? Who will continue a progressive legacy after the 2016 election?

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders debated what it means to be a progressive at the beginning of the 2016 Democratic presidential nominating process, with both claiming progressive bona fides.

Here’s what I say. You are not a progressive unless you have read Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Iowa’s own Ari Berman.

In this extensively researched, easy to read text, Berman reminds many of us of the reason we became politically active: as a way of engaging in progress toward racial and social justice centered around the Voting Rights Act (VRA) signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on Aug. 6, 1965.

There has been a concerted, well-planned effort to suppress provisions of the VRA. The June 25, 2013 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn Section 4, which required certain states to get pre-clearance of changes to voting laws from the Department of Justice, was only the most obvious, recent incident. Berman’s account of the Nixon and Reagan administrations provides insight that de-fanging the law was part of Republican intent from the beginning. My reaction was incredulity at everything that was happening before my eyes without me understanding it.

Berman interviewed Rep. John Lewis extensively for the book (along with many others) and it shows. Lewis wrote in the Washington Post,

“(Give Us The Ballot) should become a primer for every American, but especially for congressional lawmakers and staffers, because it so capably describes the intricate interplay between grass-roots activism and the halls of Congress . . . Congress must fix the Voting Rights Act, and Berman’s book explains why, without passion or favoritism. It is the first history of the contemporary voting rights movement in the United States. It is long overdue, but Berman’s extensive reporting makes it well worth the wait.”

It’s hard to disagree.

Be a progressive. Read Give Us the Ballot this summer.

~ Written for Prairie Progressive

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