Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) — who was the youngest speaker during the March on Washington in 1963 — delivered a passionate address about the importance of protecting voting rights at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial fifty years later, as thousands gathered to celebrate the anniversary of the historic event on Saturday.
“When I stood here 50 years ago, I said one man, one vote is the African cry. It is ours, too. it must be ours,” he began, before connecting the demands of 1963 to today’s struggles. “Almost 50 years ago, I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama, for the right to vote. I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us!”
LEWIS: You cannot stand by. You cannot sit down. You have to stand up, speak up, speak out and get in the way. Make some noise. The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It’s the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society and we’ve got to use it. Back in 1963 we didn’t have a cellular telephone, iPad, iPod, but we used what we had to bring about a non-violent revolution. And I said to all of the young people, you must get out there and push and pull and make America what America should be for all of us. We must say to the Congress, ‘Fix the Voting Rights Act’
Since the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act that allowed the federal government to decide if voting changes in states with histories of disenfranchisement are discriminatory, at least six states have renewed efforts to pass voter ID measures, redistricting maps that could divide and weaken minority voting blocks, and other voter suppression measures.
North Carolina became the first to enact what some are describing as “the worst voter suppression law” in the country. The measure mandates strict voter ID to cast a ballot, reduces the number of early voting days by a week, eliminates same-day voter registration during the early voting period, eliminates flexibility in opening early voting sites at different hours within a county and ends pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds, among other changes.
Earlier on Saturday, Attorney General Eric Holder, whose department is considering a challenge to the law, said equal access to the ballot box is a key part of advancing “our nation’s quest for justice.” “This morning, we affirm that this struggle must, and will, go on in the cause of our nation’s quest for justice – until every eligible American has the chance to exercise his or her right to vote, unencumbered by discriminatory or unneeded procedures, rules, or practices,” he said. The Justice Department is suing to stop Texas’ restrictive voter ID law and is also seeking a declaration from the court that the state’s legislative and congressional maps were redrawn specifically to hurt minority voting power.
“So hang in there, keep the faith,” Lewis extolled. “I got arrested 40 times during the ’60s, beaten, bloodied and unconscious. I’m not tired, I’m not weary. I’m not prepared to sit down and give up. I am ready to fight and continue to fight, and you must fight.”