Today in Raleigh, North Carolina, tens of thousands of folks are marching to protest voting restrictions and the ongoing assault on basic civil rights by North Carolina politicians. Led by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II and the North Carolina NAACP, along with more than 150 local and national coalition partners, including Planned Parenthood, the march is a wake-up call to state legislators that the citizens of North Carolina refuse to allow the hijacking of the democratic process.
Those most disenfranchised by the harsh laws -- which include the requirement to have a driver's license to vote and a restriction against early voting days -- are women of color. Meanwhile, the women of North Carolina are doubly hurt by the state's restrictions on abortion access as well as its rejection of federal funds to expand Medicaid.
For Planned Parenthood, the ideology behind these measures is all too familiar. They were put in place by politicians who would rather transport us through a time warp where only the privileged few have access to fundamental American rights. To help get back where we belong, in the 21st century, we support the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, a federal bill to restore and modernize legal protections of the right to vote. According to the ACLU, nearly half the states in the U.S., with a concentration in the South, have some form of voting restrictions. Simply put: This is unacceptable.
Many of those states are the same ones passing restriction after restriction on women's access to health care. It's clear that we are living through one of the toughest climates we've ever faced, with politicians across the United States working overtime to take us back 50 years when it comes to reproductive rights, sex education, equal pay and even the ability to vote.
But if there's one thing I've learned in my time at Planned Parenthood, it's that this next generation is not going back. They connect the fights for women's rights, immigration rights, civil rights, LGBT rights and voting rights -- and they are taking on these issues as their own.
Last summer in Texas, as the legislature tried to jam through dangerous and unconstitutional restrictions on abortion, we met a whole new generation of activists -- many who weren't even old enough to vote, but who were there with us at the capitol day after day. Like Beau Guidry, the 9-year-old Texan who not only watched every minute of Wendy Davis' 11-hour filibuster -- he live-tweeted it. As he said: "I thought my summer was going to be spent at the pool and Six Flags. Who knew I would be changing the world?"
And of course, in Raleigh, for nearly a year, supporters -- both young and old -- of Planned Parenthood, the NAACP and other social justice organizations have taken part in "Moral Monday" protests to speak out against the state legislature's extreme agenda. Last summer, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina, Janet Colm, was so deeply troubled that she joined in the civil disobedience in the state capitol, resulting in her arrest. And Janet will march again today.
Kaori Sueyoshi, a student at University of North Carolina and a proud supporter of Planned Parenthood spoke at a rally in Washington last summer -- she spoke about her generation's commitment to this fight:
North Carolina bore and raised me. But it doesn't feel very welcoming anymore...Our state legislature has been spinning back the clock, stripping decades and decades of protections -- for people of color, for poor people, for children, for women, for all of our communities. And like so many of my friends, I am appalled at how far these politicians will go to cut off women's access to abortion and other basic, preventive health care...I, along with the other powerful youth here, participate in these movements because we understand the value and meaning of the young voice. Because let's face it, we're the ones who'll suffer from the extremist policies these politicians are trying to enact.
At Planned Parenthood, our mission is to provide quality, affordable health care, no matter what. It's also to be a fierce champion for our patients. We are committed to justice for every person, to empowering women and men of every age and every race to realize their own future -- and live to see it through, whether they're in North Carolina or Texas or South Florida.
In the weeks and months to come, Planned Parenthood will continue to join our allies in urging members of Congress to put politics aside and work together to restore voter protection under the Voting Rights Amendment Act. The history of our country shows that we are better off when everyone has a voice in our political process. We continue to stand with our partners in calling for laws that make it easier -- not harder -- to vote.