Celebrating the Voting Rights Act

08/06/2010 02:50 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As we mark the 45th Anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act, we must all pause for a moment and reflect on how important the act of voting is to our country. We also look back with gratitude and awe on the sacrifices and courage of Civil Rights leaders who moved our country forward. It was through toil and sweat that these brave men and women called attention to the discrimination and inequities of laws throughout our country. It was never easy. It was sometimes dangerous. But, they marched on to ensure the most sacred and fundamental right of a Democracy -- the right to vote -- was available to all Americans with no regard to color or creed to education or economics.

But with all the great strides our country has made in voting rights, the work of registering voters, protecting voting rights, and getting people to the voting booth continues. Apathy and the suppression of voters are a disservice to the legacy of those who sacrificed so much to allow all Americans the right and privilege to have a voice in our government.

That is why I have worked throughout my adult life to organize, to register voters, and to get out the vote.

In the months leading up to the 2008 presidential primary in South Carolina, I worked with volunteers across the state to make hundreds of thousands of phone calls, hold hundreds of house parties, and knock on hundreds of thousands of doors. People told us we were crazy, that a grassroots campaign to grow the electorate, to get people excited and engaged would never work. The patronizing comments from "political veterans" who questioned our strategy to turn out new voters still rings in my ears. The results were nothing short of astounding -- tens of thousands of the people who voted in the primary that January day were casting the first vote of their life.

The victory that night was a testament to volunteers like Ms. Bennet, an 81-year-old woman whose work ethic belied her age. Although she was old enough to remember the era before the Voting Rights Act passed, she was always energized and eager to do more. She watched with tears streaming down her face as Barack Obama won Iowa and then the South Carolina primaries, victories that would have been unthinkable in her youth.

Alongside our allies, Organizing for America and the Democratic Party continue that important work this year. As a progressive community, we are undertaking one of the largest-ever voter registration and voter turnout efforts in a midterm election. And, we are instituting one of the most sweeping voter protection efforts ever for a non-Presidential election year, focusing on state-based programs and technological tools that will ensure every eligible voter is able to cast a vote and have their vote counted.

We are also employing creative new media and technology tools to help more Americans than ever participate in the democratic process. The recently launched website gives voters information tailored to their city or town on how they can register to vote and make their voice heard on Election Day.

As we pause to celebrate this momentous victory and how far our country has come, we understand that we can always increase voter participation and do more to protect that right. In almost two and a half centuries, we have gone from a country that allowed only white males to vote to one that guarantees that right to all citizens over 18. This expansion of the electorate reminds us not just that change doesn't always come easily, but also that the task of forming a more perfect union must continue.

To learn more about what OFA is doing to commemorate the Voting Rights Act, please follow the OFA blog.