A picture is worth a thousand words, and a single picture can galvanize a movement and dramatically shift public opinion.
It was the image of a stoic Mamie Till looking at her son Emmett Till’s lifeless body, beaten beyond recognition, shot and thrown in the Tallahatchie River, that forced America and the world to reckon with the brutality of racism and galvanized the Civil Rights Movement.
It was the images of white police officers beating hundreds of black marchers with clubs, cheered on by white onlookers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 that galvanized public opinion and mobilized Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act.
It was the image of a white police officer, hand in his pocket with his knee on a dying black man’s neck, ignoring his pleas about being unable to breathe and cries for his mama, that led to hundreds of thousands of Americans taking to the streets last summer–amid a global pandemic–in what was the most expansive mobilization this country has ever seen against police brutality and systemic racism.
Since the election, Republican controlled legislatures across the country have proposed more than 250 legislations that will suppress the vote if they become law, according to the Brennan Center.
On Thursday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill overhauling the state’s election laws. Democrats say the bill is reminiscent of Jim Crow tactics that were designed to prevent black people from voting. Republicans defended the bill claiming that it was designed to rebuild confidence in the election systems.
Two images from Thursday captures who the real winners and losers of this new Georgia election bill are, in a way that no essay ever could.
In one photo, Gov. Kemp was seated at his desk, surrounded by six white men, literally behind closed doors signing the bill into law using the antebellum image of the notorious Callaway Plantation — in a region where enslaved Black people seeking freedom were hunted with hounds — in Wilkes County, Ga., as the backdrop.
Meanwhile, just outside his door, black state Rep. Park Cannon was being placed in handcuffs, then dragged through the Capitol and shoved into a police car by two white police officers. She was taken to jail and charged with two felonies for daring to disturb the white men who behind closed doors were signing a bill to restrict access to voting for her and members of her community.
She was quite literally locked out, not even give a chance to pull up a chair to the table, then she was punished for trying to change it.
Though no one was killed on Thursday or badly beaten, the juxtaposition of the two images resonated with me because it tells a story as old as the country itself and one that’s all too familiar to black people.
It also brought home the point of what is at stake if we allow these Republican bills that are working their way up through GOP controlled legislatures across the country to take effect without a response from Congress.
For the sake of black people and every other minority group, Congress must nix the filibuster and pass the election reform bill, HR1, even if its just to avoid seeing another black person hauled off to jail for demanding transparency and standing up for our hard earned rights.