Fifty years after passage of the Voting Rights Act, it shouldn’t be necessary to rally Americans on behalf of our right to vote, but it is.
On Aug. 1, the NAACP began leading an 860-mile march from Selma, Alabama, to Washington to demand justice, equality and voting rights in a historic event called America’s Journey for Justice. As the march makes its way through the Deep South to our nation’s capital, the NAACP will lift up the call for equitable schools, sustainable jobs and voting rights. The Democracy Initiative – a dynamic network of labor, civil rights, voting rights, environmental and good government organizations – supports the NAACP in this national call for justice.
A strong democracy – one that counts every vote, lifts up every voice and holds our elected leaders accountable – is fundamental to who we are as Americans. We are a nation of farmers, teachers, caregivers, inventors, entrepreneurs and workers, founded on the belief that we are all created equal. Our country’s strength is grounded in our ability to take many perspectives and work together as one. When the voices of people – not just the wealthy and corporate interests that finance campaigns – are heard, we can work together to tackle climate change and address the environmental harms that disproportionately affect marginalized communities. When people, rather than corporations, are at the forefront, we can ensure progress in the fight for a living wage. When our elected officials listen to the people, we can work to reform our nation’s public school system and provide all communities access to a quality education.
The right to vote is at the heart of a government of, by and for the people. Yet two years ago, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority gutted key protections in the Voting Rights Act with its Shelby County v. Holder decision, opening the door for widespread discrimination and voter suppression.
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In the 10 months after the disastrous Shelby decision, nine states passed new Jim Crow laws that included onerous voter identification requirements. The five states along the Journey for Justice route – Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia – have all instituted voter identification laws, shortened periods for early voting and implemented other so-called reforms that undermine our democracy. As marchers make their way to Washington, we must remind Congress that it has the ability to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act today.
As marchers and activists travel from Selma to DC, 50 years after the famous march from Selma to Montgomery, they do so with the strength of civil rights and social justice leaders throughout history behind them. By participating in a rally Thursday at the Capitol in Raleigh, we can support the message of America’s Journey for Justice.
The march’s arrival in DC will not be an end point. Rather, it will be a clear signal to both Congress and the 2016 presidential candidates that they must stand with the people in fighting for a democracy that prioritizes equality and justice for all. Our country’s democratic future depends on it.
Larry Cohen is chairman of the Democracy Initiative, and Annie Leonard is executive director of Greenpeace USA. Miles Rapoport, Common Cause president; Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director; and Lee Saunders, AFSCME president, also contributed.
Coming to Raleigh
What: Journey for Justice rally
When: Thursday, 5 p.m.
Where: State Capitol