US celebarates fifty years of Voting Rights Act, strives for equal access to polls for all
Washington DC: The United States of America on August 6 celebrated the Golden Jubilee – Fifty Years – of the signing of the Voting Rights Act by the then President of America Lyndon Johnson in 1965.
Marking this occasion, US President Barack Obama recounted the sacrifices of countless men and women that secure the voting right for more Americans by “breaking down legal barriers at the state and local level that had prevented African Americans and others from exercising their constitutional right to vote”.
US Vice President Biden said; “Our task to protect the fundamental right to vote is as critical today as it was fifty years ago when Dr. King stood in the White House as President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law. The legacy of the Voting Rights Act is not fulfilled until we break down the barriers designed to silence our fellow citizens.
In Obama’s words:
“Because of that law — one of our nation’s most influential pieces of legislation — Americans who were previously disenfranchised and left out of the democratic process were finally able to cast a ballot. The law was designed to ensure that all American citizens, regardless of the color of their skin, had an equal opportunity to make their voices heard.
But that law didn’t come to pass because folks suddenly decided it was the right thing to do.
This past March, I had the honor of traveling to Selma, Alabama for the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march from Selma to Montgomery. Those who marched over the course of those five days in 1965 were fighting to ensure that African Americans could exercise their right to vote under the 15th Amendment of our Constitution. They were marching in the face of a segregationist system that wanted to deny them that right.
And on one afternoon, two visions of America met on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Those nonviolent marchers, representing the idea that all men and women are created equal and deserved to be treated as such, stared into the faces of those who represented a South that stood for the racial segregation and oppression of Jim Crow.
Roughly 600 people stood on the right side of history that day — armed only with their faith, and the conviction that we could be better. They were willing to sacrifice their own bodies in order to help bring America closer to its ideals of equality and justice for all.
Men and women were bloodied on that bridge. Bones were broken on that bridge. And because of the sacrifices made there, their vision — of a just America, a more fair America, a more equal America — ultimately triumphed. We made ourselves a more perfect union.
Today, each time we walk to the polls to cast a ballot, we cannot forget the heroes that helped make that possible for all of us. Jimmie Lee Jackson. John Lewis. C.T. Vivian. Joseph Lowery. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And so many others whose names aren’t known to history — ordinary citizens who made extraordinary sacrifices in order to ensure that all of our voices could be heard.
But as John Lewis said on that bridge when we commemorated the 50th anniversary of that day this past March, “There’s still work to be done.”
Fifty years ago, registering to vote across much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar or bubbles on a bar of soap. And while the Voting Rights Act broke down many of the formal and more ridiculous barriers to voting, today — in 2015 — there are still too many barriers to the vote, and too many people trying to erect new barriers to the vote. They’re even written into the code of law in some parts of our country — provisions specifically designed to make it harder for some people to vote.
Laws that roll back early voting. Laws with restrictive photo ID requirements. Laws that lead to improper purges of voter rolls.
What’s more, we’ve seen steps to weaken the Voting Rights Act itself. Two years ago, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the law, which has allowed a number of states to change their voting laws without having to comply with the important procedural protections put in place to safeguard against discrimination.
Across the country, there are people coming together around this issue. Right now, for instance, the NAACP is mobilizing activists for a 40-day march from Selma all the way to Washington, D.C. in support of a number of issues — one of which is uncorrupted and unfettered access to the ballot box.”