“Everything has changed and nothing has changed,” the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery opens during a recent rally in Ebenezer Baptist Church’s courtyard. Reflecting on a sermon he delivered in the 1980s, Lowery, the dean of the Civil Rights Movement, issued a call to action to civil rights, religious, civic and labor leaders and legislators to take this “opportunity” to support the Voting Rights Project, a nationwide effort to fight back against state laws aimed at denying Americans the right to a fair and accessible voting process.
His iconic sermon, which is pertinent still today, examines several juxtapositions. He offers, “There’s an opportunity here. We have the terrible tragedy of [Trayvon Martin] in Florida. We have more black police officers than we’ve ever had; yet we have more racial profiling. We have more African Americans holding key positions in this country; yet there are more blacks unemployed. We have more elected officials including [President Barack Obama] in the White House; yet there are 30 states that are seeking to disenfranchise – take away our right to vote.”
In respect to the latter, American Values First has launched a 50-state effort “to counter unfair and unnecessary requirements instituted at the state level that have resulted in voter discrimination that could prevent up to as many as five million people from registering to vote or casting a ballot.”
“The right to vote is precious and sacred. We must move swiftly to protect this fundamental centerpiece of our democracy or risk losing advances made over the last 50 years. The Voting Rights Project is committed to running a true nationwide strategy to protect and strengthen the rights of all eligible voters,” Michael Sargeant, American Values First president, tells media.
Thirty-three states have passed or are considering legislation that adversely affects the voting process. The Voting Rights Project seeks to pass legislation similar to Colorado’s “The Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act,” a bill which includes a number of provisions to make it easier to register and vote.
“Oppressive measures recently passed at the state level place undue burdens and barriers on military personnel serving overseas, senior citizens, students, disabled Americans, and absentee voters among others. Half a century after Dr. King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and the historic Voting Rights Act, we find ourselves once again fighting to preserve an essential right,” says Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams.
“The vote is the most powerful nonviolent instrument we have in a democratic society and we must do everything to protect the sacred power of the vote. There have been deliberate and systematic attempts at the state level to make it harder for voters to participate. We must put an immediate stop to this or lose any gains we have made since the Civil Rights movement and passage of the Voting Rights Act,” affirms Lowery.