The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is 56 years old today, but instead of simply celebrating the historic law that helped fight the suppression of black voters during the Jim Crow era, civil rights leaders are busy organizing elections. Mass actions to bring a new list of voting rights laws to President Biden’s office.
The nation has reached a tipping point, they say, and the struggle to save democracy from modern forms of voter suppression has never been more urgent. An increasingly conservative Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, allowing states with a legacy of discrimination to pass laws restricting access to the ballot. Voting rights advocates say voting restrictions specifically target low-income voters and black and brown voters, and voter suppression laws are designed to maintain minority dominance for the predominantly white Republican Party .
August 28 will mark the anniversary of the 1963 Washington March for Jobs and Freedom, the mass rally in Washington, DC that brought us Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and a prepared the ground for the voting rights law. and other civil rights victories in Congress. King’s family and other civil rights leaders are now calling for another mass march on Washington on August 28 that will step up pressure on Democrats who have so far failed to pass three bills on the right to vote languishing in a divided Senate.
“We are at a very critical and crucial turning point in our nation, as we promote democracy all over the world, but we have the audacity to suppress democracy at home,” said Martin Luther King III, the king’s son. Jr., during a call with reporters Thursday.
Civil rights leaders and activists across the country say Senate Democrats must ‘carve out’ an exception to filibuster and pass legislation ahead of next election to fight a wave of fueled voter suppression laws by right-wing conspiracy theories and former President Trump racist lies about voter fraud.
Nationally, 18 states have passed 30 laws that restrict access to ballots in one way or another in the months since Trump lost the 2020 election and have fanned theories of the conspiracy over voter fraud, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. During the same period, 25 states enacted 54 laws to expand access to the ballot, in part in response to how advance and postal voting exploded in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic.
“We cannot let a Jim Crow filibuster – what obstruction has been used to do – obstruct our voting rights,” said Reverend Al Sharpton, one of many longtime civil rights leaders who met with Biden and members of Congress on passing a voting rights law.
While Biden has made it clear he supports voting rights legislation, Sharpton said the president will not commit to changing Senate filibuster rules, which require Democrats to find 10 Republican votes. to pass certain laws. Two conservative Democrats – Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – continue to oppose the change in the filibuster rule, but organizers hope a historic turnout on the 28th. August will even encourage these lawmakers to stand on the right side of history.
“Lyndon Johnson didn’t lead the Voting Rights Act movement, he signed the bill,” Sharpton said. “Joe Biden will sign this bill, and we are the ones who are going to make sure he has something to sign.”
A coalition of dozens of civil rights and racial justice groups are also holding mass rallies in Atlanta, Georgia, and Phoenix, Arizona, two states where Republican-controlled legislatures have adopted what advocates say. be broad voter suppression laws that restrict access to the ballot. A challenge to Arizona’s law citing the Voting Rights Act has been taken to the Supreme Court, where conservative and moderate justices recently upheld state restrictions on absentee voting, setting a precedent that effectively removed the few remaining teeth from the voting rights law.
In Georgia, Republicans passed sweeping voting restrictions that sparked national outrage after unprecedented turnout among black voters helped influence the 2020 election. Like other southern states, Georgia is a former Jim Crow state with a history of large-scale black voting suppression, and prior to 2013 Georgia was required by voting rights law to make significant changes to state and local elections with the federal government. However, the Supreme Court emptied the so-called “prior authorization” section of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 and removed this requirement, ruling that discrimination is a thing of the past.
Voting rights and racial justice groups now focus on federal legislation S.1, the For the People Act of 2021, an election reform bill introduced by Democrats that would reduce partisan gerrymandering, set standards national laws for voter registration, reform campaign finance rules, and expand early voting and postal voting, among other measures. They are also pushing Democrats to pass John Lewis’s Advancement of Voting Rights Act, which would restore preclearance protections to the Voting Rights Act. Activists are also pushing for voters in Washington, DC to be represented in Congress, where many voters are black and brown.
Republicans have called the For the People Act an unnecessary partisan takeover that would undermine the rights of states. (White supremacists have long talked about “rights of the state” to fight federal efforts to end slavery and racial discrimination.) Manchin also said he opposed the legislation on the right to vote, making its passage in the equally divided Senate virtually impossible unless the last mass march on Washington can change a legislator’s mind. Republicans blocked debate on the bill in June, and Manchin said he preferred a two-party approach to electoral reform.
However, Manchin and at least one moderate Republican have expressed interim support for John Lewis’ legislation that would restore key pre-authorization protections once provided by the Voting Rights Act. Sharpton met with Manchin and said the senator is waiting for his fellow lawmakers to release the final version of the bill. Still, Democrats would have to overcome a Republican obstruction, which means finding 10 GOP votes or changing Senate rules, at least temporarily.
“Every American should recognize this moment for the tipping point that it is,” said Andi Pringle, director of political and strategic campaigns for March On, the coalition that plans rallies for voting rights.
King III said that in early 1965 there were not enough votes in Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. However, the first march on Washington had already gone down in history, and civil rights activists were organizing and marching across the country. They marched through Selma, Alabama, where protesters were sadly attacked by police on “Bloody Sunday,” generating images that changed the conversation and paved the way for the passing of the Voting Rights Act.
Now, civil rights leaders are preparing to march again, hoping to get the nation’s attention to Congress. Organizers said social distancing will be encouraged at rallies and free COVID tests and masks will be available.
“I am convinced that we are going to get something… and the point is that we are not giving up,” King III said.