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THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT AND POWER SHARING

--Two Non-Negotiable Demands for Civil Rights and Survival --
Statement by Congressman Major R. Owens
Submitted to the Brooklyn NAACP February 25th Forum

The Voting Rights Act is now "settled American law." Several Supreme Court decisions have reaffirmed the constitutionality of this legislation which provides an "enhanced opportunity" for minorities to be elected where they have a significant community of interest. Federal law opens the door, but it cannot guarantee that Power Sharing, the desirable goal, will be achieved.

Power Sharing moves beyond majority rule with minority rights. Power Sharing endorses the necessity of minority participation in the decision-making process. Presently, throughout the international arena there are intense discussions about mechanisms for Power Sharing beyond the traditional one-person, one-vote process of democracy. Three weeks of violent riots in France have prompted the French to open new and intense deliberations concerning large blocks of their populace that have been locked out of the governing process. In Iraq, success or failure of the effort to create a new government is dependent upon the achievement of a solution of the Power Sharing imperative in a way that satisfies three groups: The Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds.

As a result of the Civil Rights Struggle which forced the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the United States is in a position to offer the rest of the world a workable model for Power Sharing within a democracy. But while we may display this great social and political innovation with pride, it must be recognized that our successful design is a vulnerable one. Since the Voting Rights Act is not a constitutional amendment, it must be renewed by Congress in the year 2007. Of equal importance is the fact that an unwritten compact between the political parties and the minorities may be dishonored at any time. Overwhelming advantages of money and manipulation may be used against minorities to rob them of representation even after the law provides the "enhanced opportunity." There is a need for the Democratic Party and the Republican Party to adopt strong positions in support of fulfilling the Power Sharing intent of the Voting Rights Act.

In other words, while any American citizen has a right to run for any office, each party should oppose  majority candidates who seek to hijack minority voting rights districts. As a matter of principle and policy, the parties should not remain neutral when there is a threat to the Power Sharing process that has worked so effectively in America.

It is especially appropriate for an NAACP forum to, at this time, launch some critical discussions of the Voting Rights Act and the need for bipartisan support of Power Sharing. African Americans and other minorities are alarmed at the rollback of certain significant Civil Rights achievements. Loss of representation in governments at every level as a result of slippage or sabotage of the Voting Rights Act and its Power Sharing intent would constitute the absolute deadliest of setbacks for Civil Rights and American minorities.

We look forward to the Brooklyn Chapter of the NAACP's leadership on this issue so vital to our people. An amendment to the Constitution guarantees our Right to Vote without any renewal legislation. But the Voting Rights Act creates the "enhanced opportunity" to be represented in the councils of government. We have a right to call upon all Americans to support this law, and to support the complementary processes which make Power Sharing possible

 

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