On March 7, 1965, six hundred marchers of the Civil Rights Movement set out on a journey from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to continue to fight for the right to vote as Black Americans. The fight that followed left 58 people injured, including then twenty-five-year-old John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and a fresh face in the Civil Rights Movement.
That day, known as Bloody Sunday, shined a light on the violent obstacles placed on voters in the Black community. On August 6, 1965, then President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) which provided several tools to remedy the voting discrimination against Black people and has since come to serve other marginalized groups nationwide.
In 2013, the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County vs. Holder, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act — which required certain states to “preclear” discriminatory voter restrictions — was rolled back, being deemed “unconstitutional”. This means that currently, no voters are protected under Section 5 from new voting discrimination.
A National Agenda for Black Girls is uplifting the needs of Black girls and highlighting their right to make their voices heard, and we’ve named Expanding Democracy for Young People as one of our six policy priorities. The stakes are high: Black and Latinx voters in at least 23 states will experience stricter voting restrictions in the upcoming election due to the widespread voter suppression that has increased after part of the Voting Rights Act was dismantled.
Black girls need to be able to fully engage in the democratic process. Register to vote.
A Call to Action
The time for civic engagement across Black communities and marginalized groups is more urgent than ever. In this current political moment, there are people laying this work out on the ground, fighting the good fight to ensure that our voting rights matter and that all of our votes are counted.
Here are 6 reasons why this kind of good trouble is so critical:
- Across the country, 1 in 13 Black Americans cannot vote due to disenfranchisement laws. Voter suppression has deep roots in American history where violence and legislative power grabs have been the primary strategies for silencing Black voices and removing them from political processes and decision making.
- The legacy of Shelby County vs. Holder poses a real threat to democracy as states begin to push out more voting laws, carrying problematic and restrictive provisions. Since 2013, measures to limit access to voting have included:
- Refusal to change or expand voting methods in response to COVID-19
- Modern day voting fees
- ID requirements
- Registration barriers
- Voter purges and closed down voting polls
- For example, during the 2018 election for Governor of Georgia with Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams, 70% of Georgia’s Black voters were purged or removed from voting rolls and polls were closing early despite the long lines of people waiting to vote — which ultimately cost Stacey Abrams the election.
3. One-third of voters who have a disability report difficulty voting with only 40% of polling places being fully accommodating across the country.
4. Although states are making progressive strides to expand voting for those who were formerly incarcerated, rollbacks of these efforts have required these folks to fully pay off their legal fees before being eligible to have their voting status reinstated.
5. New poll taxes have been enacted to target low-income community voters.
6. Young students, especially those who attend school outside of their home state, are another group of voters who face barriers to voting with state ID requirements for registration and voting.
A National Agenda for Black Girls believes in making space for our young people to thrive in an equitable democracy. As our country’s history continues to show up in real time today, efforts to combat voter suppression should be met with the same vigor as current and former Black leaders like John Lewis.
Legacy Meets Legislation
In this spirit, the House passed a proposed legislation from Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to rename the VRA the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act after the late heroic Civil Rights Movement leader. This legislation would restore the key provision of Section 5: giving federal agencies oversight power of certain state and local jurisdictions to easier track, address, and put an end to voter suppression.
This is an important change, but we cannot stop at this “win.” We have to bolster the passage of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act (H.R. 4) with our voices and with action.
John Lewis and his comrades worked tirelessly to create the framework of our current Voting Rights Act. He put his body and life on the line to make sure that Black voters mattered. He knew that without oversight, without strong Black leaders staying on top of manipulative legislative maneuvers, without vigilance the Voting Rights Act would indeed be compromised.
Our rights to participate in our democracy are being systematically and covertly rolled back, and we have the opportunity to fight. When voting rights are withheld from our community, Black girls are left out of the political conversation. The ongoing fight for equity gave rise to A National Agenda for Black Girls. This agenda centers the experiences of Black girls and gender non-conforming Black youth leading up to the 2020 election — arguably the most pivotal of our generation.
A National Agenda for Black Girls is partnering with When We All Vote to get 2,000 potential voters registered before this year’s presidential election. Register to vote at www.whenweallvote.org/gge and share widely to ensure that your voice is heard.