THEn March 7, 1965, the nation faced one of the most iconic images synonymous with the fight for the right to vote and equality. Amelia Boynton, matriarch of the civil rights movement, chief strategist for Selma’s Voting Rights Campaign and my great-aunt, helped to spike the conscience of a nation struggling to confront the lies of racism and injustice.
She, along with the late Congressman John Lewis and many others, organized a 52-mile march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capitol in Montgomery to protest the killing of voting rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson by forces. of order and to dramatize the fight for the right to vote.
After crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the protesters were met by a sea of Alabama state troopers and sheriff’s deputies determined to hinder the momentum and movement they had garnered. On this anniversary, let us honor our ancestors not with mere reflections and thoughts, but by continuing to pressure our legislators to invest in a full democracy that requires the restoration of a new Voting Rights Law.
Until she died at 104, my great-aunt Amelia solemnly recounted that day, which became known as Bloody Sunday, when she and other peaceful protesters were tear gassed and beaten. He felt two blows, one to his arm and one to his head, and he fell to the ground unconscious, panting as Sheriff Jim Clark stopped, refusing to offer help. There was screaming, crying and groaning for more than a mile as people were viciously attacked from the front of the line to Brown’s Chapel AME Church, he said. Little did they know that Bloody Sunday would mark one of the greatest struggles for freedom and liberation in modern times. As the fight in Birmingham and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom produced the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Selma to Montgomery marches led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, when I look back in history and reflect on recent events, I can’t help but wonder: what progress have we really made, as a society, to protect and expand our fundamental right to vote?
The attempted coup on January 6, 2021 in the United States Capitol, followed by the acquittal of Donald Trump by Republican senators, was an assault on our democracy in real time. Perpetuated by Trump’s conspiracy theories and aided and abetted by many of his enablers, the false claims of a rigged election led to violence and death that day. Even more worrisome, however, are those in power who still promote the false conspiracy of voter fraud and electoral irregularities as a cover for widespread voter suppression tactics. Although we can affirm that the violence of January 6 was and continues to be a threat to our democracy, the real danger to democratic norms comes from the widespread voter suppression schemes across the country.
According To the Brennan Center for Justice, 253 bills have been submitted in 43 states since the beginning of 2021 to restrict expanded voting opportunities. As the Brennan Center explains: “These proposals primarily seek to: 1) limit access to voting by mail; 2) impose stricter voter identification requirements; 3) reduce voter registration opportunities; and 4) allow more aggressive voter list purges ”. These bills are being introduced in state legislatures across the country by Republican lawmakers.
Since Shelby County v. Holder, a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court case that removed key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, at least 25 states have passed racist voter suppression laws, including to reduce early voting days and create barriers to language access. This is in addition to partisan manipulation and redistricting measures that create barriers between races and classes.These measures disproportionately target poor blacks, brunettes, indigenous people, and whites who come together to demand progressive change. The real threat to our democracy is not the man who recently held the highest office, but those in our state legislatures who continue to push false narratives about voter fraud.
My great-aunt, who worked tirelessly for the right to vote for several decades beginning in the 1930s, knew that change happens only when people affected by racism come together in a movement and force a change in the status quo. Today I continue to carry that family legacy as an organizer of the Campaign for the Poor: A National Call for Moral Renaissance. We believe that nationwide voter suppression goes hand in hand with the injustices of systemic racism, systemic poverty, militarism and the war economy, ecological devastation, and the false moral narratives of religious nationalism. Strengthened and guided by the spirits of our ancestors, we are very clear in our demands to protect and expand voting rights and civil rights. These include, but are not limited to, the restoration of the Voting Rights Law and the restoration of the prior authorization formula that applies to jurisdictions previously covered by the Voting Rights Law; make election day a holiday; guarantee the right to vote for those previously and currently incarcerated; ensure a complete census count; and extend statehood to Washington DC.
This must be a movement led by those affected, across geography, ethnicity, race, and creed, to restore our democracy and push for the passage of a historic new Voting Rights Act, so that our nation does not have to continue to wage war. the same battles that my great-aunt, others and now I continue to challenge.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism