Since the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, the right to vote has seen an increased amount of attacks with one goal in mind – keeping you away from the ballot box. But if 2012 proved anything, we can continue to make history as we fight the forces of suppression.
Black History Month is a sacred time for many African Americans. It’s the one month that the rest of the nation stops to remember the contributions that our ancestors had in making this country great and bettering the lives of citizens of every walk of life. It’s typically the one time of year that you hear names other than Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Madame C.J. Walker and W.E.B. DuBois.
As we think of the likes of James Bevel, Diane Nash, James Orange, Ella Baker, Amelia Boynton and John Lewis – we think of the struggle to gain access to the political power that unlocks all other rights.
But as quickly as we celebrate those moments in history when on the backs of those who were strong enough to stand against a racist machine that did not want to grant blacks the right to vote without presenting some near insurmountable hurdles, we are again seeing attempts to snatch back history and make those fights in vain.
Just this week, Ohio lawmakers passed two new laws that make it more difficult for voters to access the ballot box. Specifically, two bills introduced by Republican lawmakers passed the legislature. The first of the bills will cut six days from the early voting period in the state and ends same day voter registration. The second bill will discontinue the practice of mailing absentee ballots to all registered voters by the county board of elections, but would allow the Secretary of State to send them out, IF lawmakers decide to pay for it.
Both these bills would be in effect during the election in November.
Ohio has long been a state with voting challenges and these new changes will do nothing to help voters who want to participate in the election. But they haven’t been the only state to threaten the right to vote. These types of laws, while not the same as the laws in the 1950s and ’60s that limited the ability of Black Americans to vote, are having the same effect in states across the country. When we should be expanding the right to vote to make it more inclusive, there are too many lawmakers who want to exclude minorities, the poor and the young from the process. Since 2011, state legislatures have been creating laws that restrict the right, while civil rights organizations and ordinary citizens have been doing their best work to combat the challenges.
In the 2012 election, the percentage of Black voter turnout was greater than that of Whites for the first time in history. But in 2013, the Supreme Court removed a key provision of the Voting Rights Act thereby handicapping it and since then, it has been open season on voting with a critical election in November of this year and in 2016. Even with the introduction of a new Voting Rights bill that seeks to restore some of the protections of the older version, there are new and innovative attacks that continue to find their way to the books.
It’s an issue that National Action Network will be addressing at the 2014 convention, April 9 – 12 in New York City and beyond as we partner with other organizations to address how we prepare voters to participate. But beyond April, we need to be inspired by the work of the people that help us gain the right to vote in our history and commit ourselves to working against those people who would like to see our voting rights become a thing of the past. We can do what we did in 1965 and in 2012, we can make history again.
Janaye Ingram is the National Executive Director of the National Action Network.