2006-11-17 / Columnists

The Progressive

Commentary By John Paul Culotta

November And America

Each November we begin the holiday season with Thanksgiving. This unique family centered holiday is a national celebration of the prosperity the majority of us enjoy. We also commemorate the end of the First World War on November 11. Veterans are remembered and honored on that day. Americans generally vote for their elected officials in November.

We all know the United States is unique and blessed. Often, we do not exercise our civic responsibilities. Many of us do not vote. Unfortunately, many of us view Thanksgiving as an excuse to engage in gluttony. Military service is now relegated to those who volunteer. Many of those who do are from the most deprived of our citizenry.

In late summer, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was renewed. This hallmark of the civil rights era was set to expire this year, but was renewed. Baby boomers remember the violence and deaths that occurred when African Americans decided to have the rights and responsibilities of voting America. Voting suppression is a time-honored tradition in American political life. Voluminous pages of American history attest to this. Women were not allowed to vote nation wide until 1919. In some states and American territories, women were allowed to vote before the constitution was changed. In some states, New Jersey for example, the right of women to vote was precarious in the nineteenth century. There was a time women could vote in the early part of the 1800's in New Jersey and then the privilege was rescinded. Some western territories allowed women to vote. In the early days of the republic, in many states only property owners could vote. When our nation became urbanized and industrial, voting hours were limited to hours that most factory workers were forced to work. This was to ensure workingmen did not influence elections. In effect, the poor and mostly immigrant classes, despite their American citizenship, were excluded from political life by devising election rules that would bar their participation.

Americans of black African ancestry, and many poor whites, were excluded by poll taxes and literacy requirements. It is tragic that we do not realize the fact that many Americans were willing to risk their lives and some died in order that we can exercise our right to vote. Voting suppression should be viewed for what it is, a serious violation, that is a theft of enormous consequences. No one should be denied the right to vote. Making rules and regulations difficult to suppress voting should be viewed as an attack on democratic beliefs. We should not be fighting overseas to ensure democratic principles when political parties in this nation are actively engaged in voting suppression.

On October 11, 2006 the New York Times reported that the Department of Justice is filing a lawsuit accusing blacks in a county in Mississippi, where blacks are the majority, of suppressing the voting rights of whites. If this lawsuit has merit, the true spirit of the civil rights era has been breached in a way we all should be concerned about. Reports of voting suppression by Republicans in 2004 in Ohio need also to be investigated.

This November we should remember the men and women overseas fighting for this nation's security. We may disagree about the necessity and objectives of the conflict in Iraq, but we owe our service men and women respect and gratitude. We should insist they receive all the benefits of education benefits that military service entitles them to. Many of them are denied benefits if they do not sign the paperwork at enlistment.

On October 11, 2006 the New York Times reported: "Nearly one in five soldiers leaving the military after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan has been at least partly disabled as a result of service, according to documents of Veteran Affairs obtained by a Washington research group." We should commit to ensuring these people are given all the medical and human services their disabilities require.

On Thanksgiving we should remember all of fellow Americans who do not have adequate health insurance. We should all be thankful to labor organization that advocate for workers who are medically insured at work but face employers who wish to cut back on their benefits. Again, on October 11, 2006 the New York Times reported that the United Steelworkers stopped an employer, Blue Ridge Paper Products, from employing workers from nations where costs are much lower than they are in the United States, to cut health care costs.

As we gather around to eat our turkey, we should be proud of this nation that gave most of us a decent life. We should also remember we have a civic responsibility to all of us to share the bounty.

I apologize to my readers for some of my poor proofreading skills in my previous columns. The Progressive will attempt to be more diligent.

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