The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was landmark legislation in the United States. In essence, it was designed to prohibit voter discrimination and assure all citizens access to the coveted voting booth. It has been amended five times to expand protections. It was designed to secure rights provided by the 14th and 15th Amendments, for all people.
It was the culmination of a movement led by freedom fighter Fannie Lou Hamer; Medgar Evans who headed the Mississippi NAACP prior to being slain in the driveway of his home in front of his family; the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and legions of nameless courageous men and women who put it all on the line in the struggle for human dignity.
Section 5 of that monumental provision was a critical safeguard to local jurisdictions, circumventing the law with egregious voting discrimination in the spirit of the days, in which ridiculous restrictions barred Black voting participation by design.
That section was weakened in 2013 by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the need for such protection was no longer justified – given some of the successes of Blacks in the political process.
Many close to the original legislation sensed that the weakening of the Voting Rights Act eight years ago would have severe consequences. They were immediately proven right. Now in 2021, we confront the most devastating repercussions of that infamous high court decision of eight years ago.
President Biden this week issued his most strident public condemnation of voter suppression laws passed or being considered in almost every state. He called the Republican-driven effort the biggest threat to American democracy since the Civil War.
At the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, in the presence of imposing portraits of patriots such as Daniel Webster, Benjamin Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, the president told the gathering that new laws constituted “raw and sustained election subversion.” He summed, “This is the test of our times.”
Biden compared new laws to inhibit voting rights to the suppression imposed during the worst eras of American history by the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan, and to the heinous degrading bigotry embodied in Jim Crow mentality. Both contributed to the ballot box being strictly off limits for anyone who wasn’t white.
“There is an unfolding assault taking place in America today, an attempt to suppress and subvert the right to vote and fair and free elections. An assault on democracy, an assault on liberty, an assault on who we are.” He said it comes down to the question of whether you are on the side of truth or lies, democracy or autocracy.
In a speech to some 300 civil rights leaders, elected officials and activists, the president urged all to coalesce and speak out loudly, firmly, without compromise, and without ending until there is a reversal of this dreadful campaign to nullify rights assured Black and brown people by the Constitution.
Unfortunately, talk is cheap. While the tone of the president’s rhetoric is invigorating, we need more. He urges those battling the suppression laws to be resilient, to organize, to fight, to persevere.
His adamant support is a welcome contrast to the racism espoused by his predecessor, but will it be enough?
Many believe that elimination of the filibuster in the Senate is the only solution. That would enable Democrats to have the power with their 50-50 split to enact legislation with the vote of the vice president—without the tactics of Republicans bent on doing whatever imaginable to thwart the Biden and Democratic agenda.
Unfortunately, Biden has not endorsed the proposal to eliminate the filibuster, hoping that compromise from the opposite side of the aisle will result in bipartisan legislation. The cause is worthwhile but outdated. That might have been realistic when he was a senator decades ago, but this a new, unyielding Trump-driven GOP.
In order to be the optimum ally, Biden must be willing to do whatever is necessary to protect voting rights. In times like these, we need ‘no holds barred,’ ride or die alliances.
And most of all, Blacks need to use the constant flow of bad news on voting rights to inspire, organize, strategize and do whatever it takes to counteract this vicious attempt to deprive Black and brown citizens of full citizenship.
This is no time to be discouraged, disheartened or divided. Republicans are relentless. Democrats don’t always seem to be as ready or willing to fight.
But this is one time we need to begin to prepare for battle at every level involving soldiers representing the community, religion, education, professional and corporate America, sports, entertainment, and every walk of life.
If we don’t turn this into the movement of the millennium, we risk going down a road from which there may be no return in terms of the influence of people of color in America. It is not mere hyperbole. This is the moment of this generation, and Blacks must be up to it.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].