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Equity State: System of oppression simply can’t continue

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

We have no choice but to reimagine everything.

The world as it is cannot continue.

In this moment, the evergreen quote from W.B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming” might jump to mind:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Or perhaps “Letter to the Dead” by Affonso Romano DeSant’Anna:

Friends, nothing has changed in essence.

Wages don’t cover expenses, wars persist without end,

and there are new and terrible viruses,

beyond the advances of medicine.

Now is when we need to look to women of color, like Roxane Gay, who writes, “The disparities that normally fracture our culture are becoming even more pronounced as we decide, collectively, what we choose to save — what deserves to be saved.”

Say it how you like. Even as we know that we have been here before, we also know the world cannot continue as it is. For too long it has worked for too few.

Take the accomplishment of women’s suffrage, something we celebrated in Wyoming in 2019 and nationally in 2020. That milestone is one for white women. The 19th Amendment recognized white women’s right to vote 100 years ago, but the history of women’s suffrage is also intertwined with and infused by racism.

“When we look back at the 19th Amendment, even though it passed on paper, African American women were not allowed to exercise that freely,” said Ida Jones, a university archivist at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

Native Americans won the right to vote by fighting for it state by state. The last state to guarantee full voting rights for Native people was Utah — in 1962.

In much of the country, poll taxes and other hurdles kept black, indigenous and other minority voters disenfranchised until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices. (But the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision Shelby County v. Holder vacated key provisions of the act.) And voter suppression continues. Consider the obstacles that women and people of color still face to vote.

Seemingly innocuous voter identification laws — billed by some as a “way to reduce fraud” — mirror past efforts to disenfranchise certain voters. Women, the majority of whom still change their names when they marry or divorce, might be in the midst of a document transition when they show up to vote. That increases the likelihood that they’ll be turned away at the polls.

Additional sophisticated voter suppression tactics affect women and target minority communities: Shortened hours, long lines, precinct closures and the purging voter rolls are all barriers that disproportionately impact minority voters.

Add to that the likelihood that women and people of color do low-wage work in communities far from their polling places and another barrier materializes. The structure of most working people’s lives creates significant challenges to exercising the right to vote.

It is not just the nation that is at a crossroads. Wyoming is, too.

The pandemic has disproportionately impacted those living on the Wind River Reservation. The majority of Wyoming’s COVID-19 deaths are Native peoples. And yet there are not yet plans in place to ensure safe in-person voting locations on the reservation or anywhere in Wyoming. In 2016, Wyoming offered only 234 polling locations for its 482 precincts.

At the same time, our state faces a $1.5 billion deficit and a tax structure fundamentally at odds with economic diversification. As taxes are structured now, creating new jobs actually costs the state money.

And our local community, recently the subject of “Billionaire Wilderness,” which highlighted the problems wealth inequality creates, has the most resources at its disposal, yet the greatest disparities in the nation.

This is protest season. This is election season. It is up to all of us to put forward the ideas we hope to see from our leaders. We need ideas that benefit the many instead of the few. We need policies that break down systemic oppression.

We have no choice but to reimagine everything. This is our moment to build a system that is capable of delivering equality.


Jen's column, Equity State, publishes every other week in the JHNews&Guide. Support local journalism! Subscribe to your local paper!


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