Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sanora Babb's Dust Bowl Classic, Whose Names Are Unknown: Endless Task of Making Democracy

Sanora Babb, Whose Names Are Unknown (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma, 2004):

Hundreds of families lived on the highways for three days, then protests forced the county to permit the use of a space in the county several miles from the cotton fields. the men who selected the small plot were careful to find sunken ground on the level valley floor, which would fill with water as soon as the winter rains began. This was just a precaution, a kind of suggestion that nature would make. Of course, there were other means of preserving the migratories as such. One of the most effective was a particular system of bookkeeping, ordained to keep migrant workers from registering and voting. All members of an organization of big farmers kept a record of their workers' car license numbers and the date they entered into the state. when a worker had been in a county for six months, by law, he could register. If convenient for the crop at hand, the worker was let out just before that time. As he moved on asking for work from other farmers, their records showed he should be on his way to another county. Unless he was fortunate enough to get work from a small independent farmer who had no such record or no reason for keeping one, he found the county an unwelcoming place. this discovery was no discovery at all; it was so commonplace as to appear unquestionable.

And so, in case we needed (I needed) a reminder: it has been going on forever in this country, the scheming of those with power and wealth to keep those without from enjoying the privileges of democracy. From voting. It has been going on forever in this country, the need of those with power and wealth to keep those without in subjugated and inhuman conditions, so that they will work willingly for little pay and no benefits, merely to sustain the lives of their families.

The attempt to block minority groups from the polls, which we've seen resurgent of late: this is an old story in American history. The price of viable democracy is watching and pushing back constantly. A wearisome task.

But a necessary one, if democracy is to be sustained at all.

The graphic is Dorothea Lange's classic photo of a migrant mother and children in the Dust Bowl disaster.

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