Marchers during the fiftieth anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington, August 24, 2013. (Reuters/James Lawler Duggan)
During this week’s events commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, the fight for voting rights emerged as a central cause for the civil rights movement. In 1963, few blacks could vote in the states of the Old Confederacy. In 2013, there’s a black president, but the right to vote is under the most sustained attack—in the states and the courts—since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
At the official commemoration today, Presidents Obama, Clinton and Carter voiced their dismay over the Supreme Court’s decision gutting the VRA and the rush to implement new voter suppression laws in seven Southern states since the ruling.
“A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon,” said Clinton, referencing a Texas voter ID law that accepts a concealed carry permit, but not a student ID, to cast a ballot.
“I believe we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the new ID requirements to exclude certain voters, especially African-Americans,” said Carter. “I think we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the Supreme Court striking down a crucial part of the Voting Rights Act just recently passed overwhelmingly by Congress.”
We must challenge “those who erect new barriers to the vote,” said Obama.
Voting rights issues were even more front and center at Saturday’s “Realize the Dream” rally and march.
“This morning, we affirm that this struggle must, and will, go on in the cause of our nation’s quest for justice—until every eligible American has the chance to exercise his or her right to vote, unencumbered by discriminatory or unneeded procedures, rules, or practices,” said Attorney General Eric Holder, who just filed a suit challenging Texas’s voter ID law under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
“I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama, for the right to vote,” said Congressman John Lewis, who was nearly killed during the “Bloody Sunday” march in 1965. “I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us.”
Lewis spoke for everyone at the rally when he said, “We must say to the Congress: fix the Voting Rights Act.”
Any congressional fix to the VRA will require bipartisan support and no Republicans spoke at either of the two major March on Washington commemorations. But Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) did promise congressional action to save the VRA by the end of the year at a meeting of black Republicans sponsored by the RNC. Said Sensenbrenner: