Jim Crow is Back!

GELFAND’S WORLD--Major League Baseball just announced that it is moving this year's All Star game away from Atlanta, Georgia due to the new law that changes election rules.

Voting rights groups all over the country have been up in arms about the issue and support the MLB action. The item in the law  that has been inspiring the most headlines is the one that forbids outsiders from providing food or water to the voters who get stuck in long voting lines. (Technically it is a general prohibition on gifts to voters waiting in line.) 

This part of the law is either a rare mistake -- putting in something so egregious as to incite anger and contempt all over the country -- or it is a declaration of a new Jim Crow, once again loud and blatant and taunting to all people of good will. If it is the latter, which I suspect is the intent on the part of at least some Georgia legislators, it is something that cannot be left unchallenged. This country may have a lot of de facto segregation in places as disparate as the south, New England, and right here in California, but we as a nation cannot allow the return of de jure segregation or de jure discrimination against any group of voters. 

There are some pertinent questions about how problematical the new law actually is, as discussed for example in this Washington Post story, titled without obvious tongue in cheek, Explainer: What does Georgia's new GOP election law do?  For example, the law, originally written to lessen the number of hours and days available for early voting and at one time aimed at Sunday voting -- used effectively by Black churches -- was changed so as to allow as many or more hours depending on the choice of the county. Time magazine offers a more pointed critique of the new law, detailing its multiple negative actions:  

For example, the law makes it possible for the highly partisan state government to interfere with county autonomy  by replacing county voting officials with their own people. Imagine if the governor, taking advice from Donald Trump, had been able to control the way  ballot were counted in heavily black counties last November? 

In addition, the law is a direct attack on widespread use of mail-in absentee balloting, as it will now require the addition of photo ID in each absentee ballot. Taken as a whole, the changes seem to be created to whittle off a percent or two of the minority and poor vote. That of course is speculation, but the widespread complaining about November's elections by Trump and his allies seems to bear this out. 

The more interesting point is from a broader perspective: Why is MLB joining the fight? 

The interesting question for those of us who grew up in a racist and segregated country is this modern tendency by sports leagues and some corporations to say No to Republican political shenanigans. When MLB and the NBA are willing to protest openly and to deny the All Star game to one particular state, that is something new and highly significant. 

Remember how, just a few years ago, the NFL owners made clear that Colin Kaepernick was not going to get an NFL job if he didn't play along with conservative ritual by standing for the national anthem? It was not that long ago. In fact, the previous president used Kaepernick's actions as a chance to demagogue. 

Clearly, times have changed. 

We are suddenly in a massive cultural shift that goes back to last summer. George Floyd was only one in a long line of Black men who have been abused by white police, but his death came at a time which can now be recognized as a rare moment in which lots of people -- white, Asian, Latino -- realized that they did not have to remain quiet over the endemic racism within our society. The Black Lives Matter rallies signified that we don't have to pretend not to notice things -- racist talk when we hear it and racist beatings by police. 

You can apply various labels on that moment, but the term Tipping Point seems particularly apt. It was the week and the month in which a substantial fraction of Americans were willing to recognize racism out loud and were willing to do something about it. It was the moment when that substantial fraction of our people didn't just protest, they demanded that things change. 

And that's where we take up the discussion of MLB, of Delta Airlines, and of Coca Cola. 

It is easy to recognize that multimillionaire owners of these entities are not all liberals. The total is probably a lot closer to zero than it is to one-hundred percent. But the sports leagues and major corporations know how to count sales and how to put a metric on public relations. They have been the custodians of a cultural war between the mask wearers and the unmasked rebels (particularly when it comes to airlines). They really do know how to count. It's the basis of modern management theory. It's the core lesson in all those pop-management books that have been so popular for the past forty years or so. Corporations have figured out that they want to create the image of staying close to their customers. 

And now, American corporations recognize that there has been a massive shift in what our culture is willing to tolerate, beginning with word usage and extending all the way to the conduct of our peace keepers. 

In the days of Jim Crow, there were quite a few states that did not create a rigid legal structure for segregation. It was possible for Blacks to enter at least some restaurants in places like California without the fear of being arrested simply for being there. Not so in Texas and Alabama and Georgia and many other once-confederate states. So when the Georgia legislature passed the recent voter suppression act and the governor signed it in the presence of a bunch of white men and directly underneath a picture of an old plantation, it wasn't just the optics that were off. It was the force of history as symbolized by last summer's marches and the newly found control of the U.S. Senate by Democrats. 

When I was younger, it was still possible for a Major League Baseball team not to have even one Black player. Here is how Walter C. Carrington described the history of the Boston Red Sox as late as 1959:  

"I looked into whether the Sox hiring practices at Fenway Park violated the Fair Employment Law. It turned out they did — big time. With one brief exception, the Red Sox had never hired a black person anywhere in the organization, even in the most menial position.

"It also appeared that the team’s racist culture emanated from the top. Tom Yawkey provided financial support to white segregationists in his home state of South Carolina. And Pinky Higgins, the Red Sox general manager, was quoted in the press, vowing “There’ll be no n------ on this ball club as long as I have anything to say about it.”

It was not only baseball, it was the entirety of American culture in the lives of many still-living people. 

There is resistance to the actions by MLB, Delta, and Coca Cola. Here is a press release from Mitch McConnell that warns corporations not to fall for "absurd disinformation on voting laws":  Mitch avoids some of the worst aspects of the new law in his screed, but the overall tone is telling. There is no indication that there is any remorse or anger on his part over what the Georgia legislature has done. 

In the paragraphs above, I suggested that we are at a tipping point. It is probably the case that the tipping point is still going on, and we could tip back if there is not a high enough level of popular will. But for MLB to do what it did shows that things are way different not only from what they were in 1959 but differ substantially from what they were even as recently as 2019. 

Addendum: The continuing issue with the Neighborhood Council Congress 

In the previous column, I discussed the tension between some longtime neighborhood council leaders. One side, led by Cindy Cleghorn, runs the planning group for the annual neighborhood council congress. Another group is the city government agency known as the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE). Finally there is the group of congress organizers who are now opposed to the continued leadership of that group by Cindy Cleghorn. 

In that column, I pointed out that there had been a closed meeting hosted by the president of the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners (BONC) which included the General Manager and other employees of DONE as well as representatives of the opposing sides. There was no agreement or settlement reached at that meeting, and at the time my previous column went to press, the situation seemed to be up in the air. 

The main question was whether or not the commissioners and elected officials could coerce an election agreement from the current leadership, something that the opponents have been pushing for. 

It was not to be. Cleghorn has, so far, neither agreed to an open election (to be run by a neutral third party such as DONE) nor agreed to work with the opposition group on restructuring the organization. In fact, she announced that she would be hosting a meeting to be held on Saturday, April 3, on the traditionally scheduled first-Saturday. 

DONE's General Manager requested that Cleghorn either cancel the Saturday meeting or merge it with a meeting to be run by DONE. Cleghorn was not willing. 

Something had to give. 

On Thursday evening, DONE sent out an announcement that it would be hosting a meeting to be held on Saturday, April 10. At that meeting, DONE plans to hold an election for neighborhood congress planning group officers. DONE will invite discussion on its proposed election procedures and will then hold the election. 

Was this April 10 meeting broached to Cleghorn in advance of the announcement? I don't know the answer to that question, but we do know that Cleghorn sent out her own email within a few hours, explaining that she would be holding her April 3 meeting. The tone of the email suggested that Cleghorn deems herself to be the current chair and that she has the authority to create agendas (presumably, as in the March and April meetings) that do not include an election. 

Obviously the BONC and DONE authorities disagree with Cleghorn, and are going ahead with an election meeting with our without her agreement or participation. We can expect the opposition group to be participants at the April 10 meeting.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)