On a Sunday morning in September 1963, a bomb exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four innocent little girls and injuring many others. That church, the location of such tragedy and injustice, became symbolic of the overall struggle for civil rights and equality in the nation. The following year Freedom Summer was launched in an effort to register as many blacks as possible to vote in the state of Mississippi, and to eliminate the abhorrent presence of segregation still impacting various aspects of society. Fifty-plus years on from those historic moments, we have much work to do. This week my organization, National Action Network (NAN), will gather at the historic 16th Street Baptist Church to kick off Freedom Summer 2014, as well as to mark the opening of our new headquarters in Birmingham. A few months away from the midterm elections, and at a time when so much of our progress is under threat, this just might be one of the most pivotal moments before us.
Looking back upon the 2008 presidential election, the power of the black vote cannot be discounted. In fact, the historic participation of blacks and other minorities helped elect the first black president of the United States. No one should ever minimize that fact. But while we greatly exercised our right to vote in '08, many failed to do the same two years later during the midterms. What we got then were a slew of politicians who are more concerned with their own self-aggrandizement than with serving people. What we got were many obstructionists who halt legislation and stand in the path of much of what the president tries to accomplish to better the nation. What we got were so-called elected officials focused on attacking social safety nets and programs designed to help the less fortunate. What we got were folks who make it a point to go after women's right to choose and have continually attempted to take away their reproductive rights. What we got were people who care about corporations more than they care about the people they supposedly represent. So my message to everyone is this: Don't make the same mistake in 2014.
For several years we've witnessed intense attempts to take away people's right to vote. Whether through blatant, draconian voter-ID laws or through the elimination of early-voting days and more, many states have either implemented or are in the process of pushing for new methods to disenfranchise black and minority voters, the elderly, the poor and young people. While we have actively pushed back against many of these efforts -- and continue to do so -- we must prepare for the reality that a number of states will in fact have these kinds of rules on the table as people hit the polls this November. It is up to us to educate as many as possible beforehand. NAN's Freedom Summer 2014 is designed to do precisely that. Birmingham will be the symbolic kickoff location, but we will conduct voter-registration drives and town-hall summits and organize groups to physically take people to the polls in several states directly impacted by these suppressive new schemes. Please visit NationalActionNetwork.net for more information, and sign up to join us if you can. And if you physically cannot be there, let others know and spread the word any way you can: This year's vote is crucial.
I want to be perfectly clear that neither I nor NAN is advocating for any particular political party or candidate, nor are we telling people whom to vote for. What we are doing is urging as many people as possible to participate in a process that countless Americans gave their lives for. Oftentimes we take the ability to vote for granted or get too complacent. But if we are concerned about the future of the country we all love, then it is up to us to help shape its future. Whom we elect this year will help determine the makeup of the Supreme Court and will decide the fates of other judicial nominees. It will help determine the direction we take on key issues like immigration, jobs, the economy, women's rights, health care, social safety nets and protections, the rights of the LGBT community and much more. While NAN and I are not telling you whom you should vote for or what stance you should take on issues, we are urging you to participate, because that is one of the surest ways to make your voices heard.
If you are tired of political bickering, make sure you vote. If you are tired of a do-nothing Congress, make sure you vote. If you are tired of politicians putting self-interest ahead of the people's interest, definitely vote. While presidential elections are undoubtedly important, the midterms just might be even more crucial. As our Freedom Summer 2014 launches, we hope that people all across the nation remember the sacrifices of the past and our duty during the present.
If you think you're too busy, tired or just plain lazy to vote this November, just remember those four little girls who died during a struggle that allows you to even have these options today.