Over 10,000 Take to the Streets in Support of the Voting Rights Act
By Alysia Fischer, PDA Policy Director
August 6, 2005--August in Atlanta is hot and muggy, but that didn't stop over 10,000 marchers determined to voice their support for the strengthening and reauthorization of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). The event was organized by Rainbow/PUSH, and the crowd was made up of various civil rights organizations, labor unions and peace and justice groups. Marchers and rally speakers spoke of the need to reauthorize the VRA, and addressed other concerns such as the failing economy and the need to end the occupation of Iraq. Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) was proud to play a part in this historic event as a co-sponsor.
The Voting Rights Act, created under pressure from the Civil Rights movement, has been called the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever adopted by the United States Congress. President Johnson issued the call for this legislation following the unprovoked attack by state troopers on peaceful marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 7th 1965. Five months later, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law. This Act ended the use of a variety of disenfranchisement schemes, including literacy tests, poll taxes and constant moving of polling sites in many southern states. It made racially gerrymandered districting plans in those states subject to scrutiny and rejection. Where necessary, it authorized the Attorney General to appoint federal voting examiners and observers.
Later additions to the Voting Rights Act in 1975 made certain that Hispanic voters had access to ballots in Spanish. What makes the Voting Rights Act so important is that it put restraints on states and counties where discrimination was historically proven to affect the vote. Removal of these restraints significantly increased the numbers of African Americans registered to vote, and the 1975 addition has also increased the percentage of Hispanic voters. In Alabama, for example, in 1965 less than 20% of the African American population was registered to vote, contrasted with almost 70% of the White population. By 1988, almost 70% of African Americans in Alabama were registered to vote, compared with 75% of Whites.
The speakers in Atlanta on August 6th recognized that the Voting Rights Act is not simply an historical document, it is still important and necessary. They reflected the broad range of Americans working in the struggle to ensure that all Americans have access to the vote. In addition to luminaries from the civil rights movement, nine members of congress were in attendance. Members of the Congressional Black Congress, including Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) were joined by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) in their call for reauthorization of the VRA.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) both spoke in support of reauthorization at the rally, and their presence indicates the Democratic Party is taking both the Voting Rights Act and the South seriously. It is our hope that paying attention to the disenfranchisement of southern voters is an indicator that the Democratic Party will be putting more time and resources into these states. PDA Advisory Board Member John Bonifaz gave a rousing speech in support of strengthening our democracy near the close of the afternoon.
What you can do to help:
Sign the Rainbow/PUSH petition in support of reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act.