On August 6, 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson, with Martin L. King Jr. and Rosa Parks among others standing at his side, signed the Voting Rights Act ("VRA") into law. It was another major accomplishment in the dismantling of the old Jim Crow laws that kept blacks and many other non-white citizens from full participation in American society.
It is without question, that when we look at democratic movements around the world, the measure of real freedom is the ability to afford the citizens of any nation the full and unfettered right to vote. Voting is what empowered the majorities in many nations to become self governing and to determine for themselves their destinies. The framers of the American Constitution understood that the right of the people to elect its representatives sat at the core of its newly won independence from the British crown.
On August 6, 2013 many will gather around the nation to declare August 6th National Voting Rights day. From Selma, Alabama to the delta in Mississippi to the bayous of Louisiana to the streets of Detroit, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. among others people will gather to hold press briefings, mock funerals and other demonstrations to highlight the fight to protect our right to vote. We as a nation face once again a battle to protect that most valuable right that every citizen should enjoy regardless of race, religion, class or gender in the right to vote. The recent Supreme Court decision striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and thereby weakening the overall protection of the full and fair right to vote is and should be a new call to mount every resource to move the United States Congress to act to fix the VRA and empower the Department of Justice to pre-clear any changes in a jurisdictions voting laws that will discriminate against any segments of our voting population.
In the aftermath of the attacks against the demonstrators who marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on the day that became known as "Bloody Sunday" in March 1965, President Johnson in a speech before the nation remarked that "We Shall Overcome." The president then embarked on the tough battles in congress to produce the VRA. It is said by historians that Johnson believed that if blacks were given the power to vote, they would then be able to "do the rest by themselves."
History is still determining how much we have been able to do by ourselves. But history will certainly be recording what we do to revive and protect our right to vote. Many states concerned with the balance of power and the influence of the march of time have been developing real challenges to the basic right to vote with the advent of "Voter ID" laws and other forms of voter suppression. This cannot be allowed. Congress must fix the Voting Rights Act and ensure that no citizen is ever denied the full and unabridged right to vote.
Many will stand to remind us of the passage of the 1965 VRA, and many more will then gather in Washington, DC on August 24, 2013 as we mark the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. We came then in a demonstration for Jobs, Justice and Freedom, and we will come in 2013 to answer the question of whether we are ready, willing and able to ensure the America that our forefathers dreamt about when they shed their blood and gave their lives for us to be recognized not by the color of our skins, but by the content of our character, by our abilities and our humanity.
Michael A. Hardy, Esq. is General Counsel and Executive Vice-President to National Action Network (NAN). He has been involved in many of this nation's highest profiled cases involving violations of civil or human rights. He continues to supervise National Action Network's crisis unit and hosts a monthly free legal clinic at NAN New York City's House of Justice.