By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Voters Will Push Back Against GOP Attacks
Watching the news this week was like something out of a bad movie. Not quite “Birth of A Nation” bad, but still “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” getting trampled on bad.
Talking heads were recounting floor speeches and audio clips were whirling through the air. I needed to step out of my very skin, because none of it seemed real. Were none of these in political, in an American political party, going to vote to protect the voting rights of United States citizens? As I flipped from channel to channel, I just kept saying could this be real? As I straightened my back and sat up in my chair, I understood that what was happening was real. It was dangerous and it was intended to hurt people who look and vote like me.
Yet, when Republican members of the U.S. Senate decided that, as a voting bloc, they would stand in the way of the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, it was still a surreal moment. They had been broadcasting that they had no intention of hearing the proposed legislation to restore and strengthen parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The bill is needed to address the portions of the act that were struck down by two United States Supreme Court decisions involving Shelby County v. Holder and Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), was last reauthorized by Congress in 2006. The bipartisan bill was signed into law by then president George W. Bush and was named The Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, And Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization And Amendments Act Of 2006. The bill was so named to honor the work of these three Black civil rights leaders.
Like Congressman John Lewis, each fought for equal treatment under the law, to include issues like public accommodations and voting rights.
Living during the height of Jim Crow, African Americans were systematically discriminated against in the attempt to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Notably in Southern states, Black people were often given a literacy test or told to recite the entire U. S Constitution, to be able to cast a ballot. It was common for them to be provided incorrect voting dates and polling locations. These actions are known as “Poll Taxes.” The VRA was enacted to outlaw this behavior and ensure federal oversight of voter registration and investigate the use of poll taxes in certain state and local elections.
In 2013, after challenges to the VRA, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that portions of the act were outdated. States were left to their own devices and they immediately began to enact laws and introduce bills that did everything from reducing polling locations to stop Souls to the Polls Sunday early voting. Others like Wisconsin push ID requirements to vote and limits mail-in voting. It’s enough to make you feel defeated.
Then I thought about, Mrs. Fannie Lou, Mrs. Parks, and Mrs. King. Nothing stopped them. Not the president, not arrests, not the assassination of a husband. I thought about Sojourner Truth, Coralie Franklin Cook, Mary Church Terrell, and Vel Phillips. I thought about Latosha Brown, Stacy Abrams, and Dr. Barbara Arnwine. Then I looked in the mirror and I said “They don’t know us.” We push back!