By George E. Curry
After ceremonies wrap up Sunday in Alabama commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery March and the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a group of die-hard demonstrators will re-enact the full march.
“We are re-enacting the full 54-mile March this year,” Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) President Charles Steele announced at a press conference in Montgomery. “The March will begin in Selma on Sunday, March 8th, with the Commemoration of Bloody Sunday, and will conclude on Friday, March 13th, with an 11:00 a.m. event on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery.”
At the news conference, Alabama State Senator Hank Sanders (D-Selma) correctly noted, “The right to vote is being challenged at every turn. From voter photo ID (modern day poll tax), proof of citizenship to register (modern day literacy test) and reduction in voting and voter registration days to the Shelby County v. Holder decision gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act and more, Americans are losing the right to vote, which so many people sacrificed their lives and blood to secure.”
In Shelby V. Holder, by a margin of 5 to 4 in June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to gut Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required jurisdictions with a proven history of racial discrimination to pre-clear any election law change with the U.S. Attorney General or the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
The case grew out of a decision by Calera, a small city in Shelby County, Ala., to implement a redistricting plan that led to the defeat of the city’s lone African American City Council member. Under the plan, a district that was 71 percent Black was redrawn so that its Black population was reduced to 23 percent. The plan was never submitted for pre-approval.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, more than 40 bills have been introduced in 17 states that would restrict access to registration or voting.
In view of these politically motivated efforts to suppress the Black vote in particular, I am hereby proposing a Shelby County, Ala. to Washington, D.C. March, with the goal of getting Congress to protect the integrity of voting in the U.S. Just as the Selma-to-Montgomery March led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a Shelby County to D.C. March could pressure Congress to act again to protect the sacred right to vote.
The march would kick-off in Calera, about 30 minutes south of Birmingham, and address the relevant voting issues along the march route.
After Calera, Ala., the next stop would be in Georgia, where marchers could express support for proposed legislation that would expand opportunities for eligible citizens to vote, and provide for or expand the electronic transfer of voters’ information between state agencies.
In South Carolina, demonstrators could support a bill that would relax voter ID or citizenship laws and legislation that would make it easier for people with disabilities to cast a ballot.
Crossing into North Carolina, demonstrators can join an effort to overturn the Voter Information Verification Act, a voter suppression bill signed into law by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. The controversial measure requires government-issued voter ID, ends same day voter registration, bans Sunday voting and discontinues pre-voter registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. Several organizations, including the NAACP State Conference of Branches, have sued to overturn the law.
Marchers might want to spend some extra time in Virginia before moving on to D.C. to oppose a bill that would restrict access to registration and voting and support a competing one that would increase access to voting, oppose a bill that would require proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate) to register or to vote, support proposed legislation that would expand early in-person voting, back a proposed legislation to reduce waiting times for voting, endorse a bill to expand opportunities to vote by absentee ballot, support a bill to protect voters from having their name wrongfully removed from voting lists, and back a proposed bill to increase the likelihood of contested provisional ballots being counted.
In Washington, demonstrators should underscore the embarrassing reality that D.C. is the only capital of a democratic country in the world that does not enjoy voting representation in its national legislative body or true home rule.
I am glad we’re commemorating the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But after the celebration, it’s time to undo the damage the Supreme Court and largely-Republican state legislatures have done to the landmark voting legislation.
The Brennan Center report stated. “This year, the courts – including the U.S. Supreme Court – are again poised to rule on voter ID and other election laws. Courts failed to block a number of restrictive laws last year, and without clear limits, states appear ready to move forward with harsh new measures.”
We must block those measures.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and BlackPressUSA.com. He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook. See previous columns at http://www.georgecurry.com/columns.