the 50th anniversary of the voting rights act
This morning, on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act being signed into law, I’m thinking about Jimmie Lee Jackson – 26 years old and shot to death for participating in a peaceful protest for the right to vote.
I’m thinking about Viola Liuzzo – a housewife and mother of five, shot to death for participating in, as well as helping coordinate, the Selma to Montgomery marches; and James Reeb – beaten to death for participating in the Selma voting rights movement.
I’m thinking about the members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church who, despite repeated harassment, raids, and unspeakable violence, continue to worship as well as push the Civil and Voting Rights Acts forward.
I’m thinking about the over-2000 people that marched from Selma to Montgomery, and the 50,000 people that met them on the other side.
I’m thinking about the first suffragettes in 1848, and the 72 years it took before women were eventually granted the right to vote; Native Americans, whose families were raped and farms were pillaged all for the impossible crime of simply being indigenous to America, not being granted the right to vote until the Voting Rights Act; and Asian Americans who had to wait until 1952, and the McCarran-Walter Act, for even the possibility of their vote to begin.
I’m thinking about Annie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair – killed in a church bombing on a Sunday morning. The church served a meeting-place for civil rights leaders, and was involved in a campaign to get African-Americans registered to vote. The girls were 14, except Carol who was 11. They weren’t protesting or registering others to vote… they were just kids. They were kids at church.
Today is a day of pride, remembering how far we’ve come in the fight for voting rights; but it’s also a day of action – we have so far to go before every eligible citizen has easy access to cast their vote.
If you haven’t registered to vote, today’s a great day for it. If you’re already registered – you win! Now go find one of your friends that haven’t. It shouldn’t be hard. Only 36.6% of eligible voters cast a ballot last year. That’s a downward tick from the year before that, and the year before that, and the… we’re trending down is what I’m getting at.
The fight for the right to vote, and the fight for the things we’re voting on… those fights are not over.
Voting isn’t a privilege, it’s a promise you make to this country, and its citizens, when you turn 18. A promise that says you will be a part of the community where you live and work.
So today, on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act being placed into law, I’m asking you to live up to that promise. Take five minutes, go online, and register to vote. Get one friend to do the same. Five minutes out of your day.
Then spend another few minutes thinking about how far we’ve come, and those whose shoulders we rode to arrive at this day.