by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, there have been a lot of war analogies. The Surgeon General called last week our Pearl Harbor moment. I think the war references are hyperbolic, but since war analogies are in the air, I decided to contribute to the war effort.
In 1940 France fell to the Nazis and became occupied. At the time world-famous French philosopher Henri Bergson resided in Paris. Bergson was 80 years old, suffering from serious health problems, and on his death bed. Bergson was born a Jew, but didn’t practice Judaism; he favored the Catholic faith. Before the outbreak of World War II Bergson explained why he never converted to Catholicism. He stated there was an increase in anti-Semitism due to the rise of the Third Reich, and, when it was time, he wanted to remain with the persecuted. The time came when all Jews in occupied France were ordered to register at their local police stations. Bergson was granted an exemption because of his fame, but Bergson rose from his bed, endured the harsh weather, and stood in line for hours with the others required to register. When Bergson finally entered the police station he signed as the following: Academic, Philosopher, Noble Prize Winner, Jew. It’s believed Bergson died days later from a cold he caught while standing in line.
On April 7, 2020, despite the coronavirus pandemic, Wisconsin’s Republican leaders forced the state to hold their primary election against the governor’s wishes. Right before election day, Democratic Governor Tony Evers signed an executive order suspending in-person voting and moved the deadline for absentee/mail-in ballots to June 9. Wisconsin’s Supreme Court overturned the governor’s order, ruling the governor had no authority to suspend or rewrite state election laws.
To make matters worse, there was an astronomical increase in absentee ballot requests because voters didn’t want to risk their health to vote. Due to the increase a lower court in Wisconsin extended the deadline for receiving mail-in-ballots for one week after election day. (Postmarked by April 13 instead of April 7, a lot of voters received their absentee ballots days before the seventh while others were still waiting for their ballots to come in the mail.) But the Supreme Court struck the extension down in a 5-4 decision. The five conservative Supreme Court justices concluded the April 7 postmark could not be relaxed because the Supreme Court has stressed repeatedly that lower federal courts should not alter election rules on the eve of an election. Liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote in her dissenting opinion, “Either (voters) will have to brave the polls, endangering their own and others’ safety. Or they will lose their right to vote, through no fault of their own.”
Opinion writers have declared the Supreme Court’s decision as “irresponsible,” “anti-democratic” and “mind-boggling.” But the most mind-boggling event took place in Milwaukee. (Milwaukee County has over 60 percent of Wisconsin’s total Black population.) Due to the sudden suspension of in-person voting and the last-minute reversal, Milwaukee wasn’t able to open all of its polling places. Out of 180 polling places only five were operational on Election Day. According to reports lines snaked for blocks with masked and gloved voters waiting up to three hours to accomplish what could have been done by mail. A 70-year-old Milwaukee voter told a reporter that the polling place near his house was closed down so now he’s miles away standing in line for as long as it took to vote. Then he quoted Malcolm X, “It’s the ballot or the bullet.”
Unfortunately, the coronavirus has occupied the United States the way the Nazis occupied France. Henri Bergson was exempt from forced registration, but chose to stand with the persecuted. Registered voters of Milwaukee were exempt from polling places, but were forced to tempt Bergson’s fate in order to vote. The only other option for Milwaukee’s registered voters was to persecute themselves and remain home with the disenfranchised.
April 7, 2020—Wisconsin, an Election Day that will live in infamy.