After the New York Times highlighted the Republican Party’s efforts to disenfranchise African-Americans and others protected by the now-dismantled Voting Rights Act, President Obama decided to weigh in on the discussion.The President urged Americans to ensure that the Voting Rights Act is “vigorously protected,” calling on Congress to restore the law to its state before the Supreme Court decided that racism no longer exists in America.
“I was inspired to read about unsung American heroes like Rosanell Eaton in Jim Rutenberg’s ‘‘A Dream Undone: Inside the 50-year campaign to roll back the Voting Rights Act’’ the President wrote in his letter to the Times.
“It’s a cruel irony that the words that set our democracy in motion were used as part of the so-called literacy test designed to deny Rosanell and so many other African-Americans the right to vote. Yet more than 70 years ago, as she defiantly delivered the Preamble to our Constitution, Rosanell also reaffirmed its fundamental truth,” Obama said. “What makes our country great is not that we are perfect, but that with time, courage and effort, we can become more perfect. What makes America special is our capacity to change.”
Lately, we have seen some positive change in America, with the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide, the Supreme Court’s stand against discrimination in housing, Obama’s executive actions to protect LGBT employees of federal contractors from discrimination and raise their minimum wage (A great example for the rest of the nation), and the numerous other ways our country has improved under President Obama.
“As Rutenberg chronicles, from the moment the ink was dry on the Voting Rights Act, there has been a concentrated effort to undermine this historic law and turn back the clock on its progress,” Obama wrote.”His article puts the recent push to restrict Americans’ voting rights in its proper context. These efforts are not a sign that we have moved past the shameful history that led to the Voting Rights Act. Too often, they are rooted in that history. They remind us that progress does not come easy, but that it must be vigorously defended and built upon for ourselves and future generations.”
Among those who still fight for oppression, are our nation’s conservatives — and the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision that parts of the Voting Rights Act are not necessary was a huge win for them. Immediately, Red states began amping up the voter suppression. Texas, for instance, went straight for a poll tax.
Often, the Right uses “election fraud,” a statistically insignificant phenomenon, as an excuse for their efforts to oppress the poor, African-Americans, and other groups that traditionally will not vote for Republicans. In June, Clinton called out much of the GOP field for their support of the disenfranchisement of the black community.
“What is happening is a sweeping effort to disempower and disenfranchise people of color, poor people and young people from one end of our country to another,” Clinton said in a speech at Texas Southern University, in which she called out many of her Republican opponents’ “fear-mongering.”
“Former Governor Rick Perry signed a law that a federal court said was actually written with the purpose of discriminating against minority voters,” she said. “He applauded when the Voting Rights Act was gutted.” Clinton pointed out that some states — like Texas — have laws where student identification cards are not accepted as valid ID, but concealed weapons permits are.
“In Florida, when Jeb Bush was governor, state authorities conducted a deeply flawed purge of voters before the 2000 presidential election,” she said. “Today Republicans are systematically and deliberately trying to stop millions of American citizens from voting.” Clinton also named and shamed Chris Christie, and Scott Walker in her speech.
Clinton said that voting rights must be protected “for the student who has to wait hours for his or her right to vote, for the grandmother who’s turned away from the polls because her driver’s license expired, for the father whose done his time and paid his debt to society but still hasn’t gotten his rights back.” As for Obama, he credits the Voting Rights Act for his ability to become President:
I am where I am today only because men and women like Rosanell Eaton refused to accept anything less than a full measure of equality. Their efforts made our country a better place. It is now up to us to continue those efforts. Congress must restore the Voting Rights Act. Our state leaders and legislatures must make it easier — not harder — for more Americans to have their voices heard. Above all, we must exercise our right as citizens to vote, for the truth is that too often we disenfranchise ourselves.
And that is the platform of all Democrats, liberals, and right-minded Independents: Everyone’s rights should be protected, period.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.