THE BLOG

Voting Rights Act, Trayvon Martin & the Sequester: 3 Reasons Why You Need to Take Action Today

02/27/2013 06:34 pm ET | Updated Apr 29, 2013

Earlier this morning, the president delivered remarks at the unveiling of a statue at the Capitol dedicated to civil rights icon Rosa Parks. At about the same time, in a strange and troubling twist of irony, I led a rally and attended the opening of oral arguments at the Supreme Court in a case that could devastate the Voting Rights Act as we know it. This week also marked the one-year anniversary of the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. And on Friday, due to the inability of certain Congressional members to do their job, Americans will feel the devastating impact of the sequester. This is a pivotal week no doubt. But progress doesn't exist in a vacuum. In order to keep moving forward, and push back against measures like attacks on our right to vote, we have to organize, mobilize and take real action. That is the lesson of this week. We beat Jim Crow in the past, so there's no reason why we can't defeat James Crow Jr. Esq. now. It won't necessarily be easy, but each and every one of us must do our part. Our future as a nation depends on it.

For much of 2012 (and 2011 for that matter), we witnessed some of the most egregious efforts to disenfranchise minority, elderly, student and poor voters all across this country. Because of harsh suppression tactics like new voter ID laws and elimination of early voting days, my organization, National Action Network, conducted voter education tours in some of the areas that would be impacted the most, while others fought back in the courtroom. Together, we reversed the potential ramifications of these laws, and voters once again turned out in record numbers and made history on Election Day. But now, in what will arguably be the most critical civil rights decision of the year, the Supreme Court is taking up the case of Shelby v. Holder which challenges Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A vital part of the Act, Section 5 requires jurisdictions which have a history of discriminatory voting practices to obtain advanced approval from the federal government before they can alter election laws. Without Section 5, the very purpose of the Voting Rights Act will be demolished. It is the most detrimental blowback against our fundamental civil rights as citizens. After individuals like Martin Luther King Jr., and countless unnamed heroes of the civil rights era gave their lives for our liberties, we cannot allow this to take place. Today, oral arguments began and I was joined by Rep. John Lewis, members of the NAACP, National Urban League and other groups and individuals as we rallied outside the Supreme Court. We must continue to keep the pressure on; regressing is not an option.

As many Americans are probably aware, this Friday is a pivotal day for all of us. Because of the inability of some congressional members to act, the devastating sequester cuts will go into effect and millions will have to deal with the consequences. In the immediate, hundreds of thousands of workers could lose their jobs on Friday. And in the weeks and months ahead, Americans will see the impact of other cuts in vital services like health care, they will see longer lines at airports because of fewer TSA agents, programs like Head Start and Early Head Start will be eliminated for thousands of children and many students could see a loss of college financial aid because of decreased funds for things like federal work-study programs. Money will be cut for protections for clean air and clean water, public safety funds, job search assistance programs, vaccines for children, the STOP Violence Against Women program, nutrition assistance for seniors, and cuts to small business, food safety, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, emergency responders, unemployment benefits, homelessness programs, mental health services and more. The fact that we would allow these sorts of cuts to harm Americans at a time when they are already facing tough challenges is beyond comprehension. It is a travesty. This is not the American way. Leaders elected to represent us must stop their partisan bickering and do their job. And we must make sure they do.

Last night, candlelight vigils were held across the country to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin. An unarmed black teenager killed by a self-proclaimed community watchman, young Trayvon's promising life was cut short senselessly. Fighting back their tears and their continuing heartache, Trayvon's parents joined the New York vigil yesterday as countless others stood in the rain wearing their hoodies in a show of solidarity. When unarmed young black men and women can be gunned down either by police or community watch patrols because they may fit a certain 'profile,' we must continue fighting for justice. Until it is safe for all of our children to walk, drive and live on any street in this country, we cannot be complacent. And until individuals stop receiving preferential treatment by not being arrested after taking someone's life, we have much work that remains. Trayvon's parents and the thousands who gathered at vigils last night across the country understand this and are committed to obtaining justice for Trayvon.

People sometimes ask why we must continue fighting for civil rights in 2013. All you need to do is take a look at these three separate but pivotal incidents. Yes, we have undoubtedly progressed, but until we stop witnessing cases like Trayvon's, until we stop allowing elected officials to hold all of our futures in the balance because of their political ambitions, and until we stop watching our courts eradicate the very civil liberties so many literally gave their lives for, we cannot stop. Today, Justice Scalia had the audacity to say that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was a "perpetuation of racial entitlement." If that isn't the most outrageous misrepresentation of the Voting Rights Act, then I don't know what is. When did protecting every American's fundamental right to vote become some sort of 'racial entitlement'?

If we thought voter suppression tactics last year were shocking, a negative Supreme Court ruling in this case could open the floodgates for far worse. Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, right, left, or center, nobody -- especially the Supreme Court of the United States -- should ever reverse one of the central victories of the civil rights struggle itself. This is the antithesis of progress, and the antithesis of who we are.

As the great Frederick Douglass once said: "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will." It is up to us, the people of this nation, to continue to demand equality across the board. Make sure you do your part.