Activists including representatives from March on for Voting Rights, met on Aug. 6 to celebrate the 56th anniversary of the {1965 Voting Rights Act} and plan for a nationwide march on Aug. 28 to continue the fight to end voter suppression. (Courtesy Photo)

By Micha Green
D.C. and Digital Editor
mgreen@afro.com

Fifty-six years after their heroes celebrated the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, current activists including the Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III and representatives from March on for Voting Rights, highlighted the importance of the legislation that was signed almost six decades ago, while also emphasizing the need for restored rights in 2021.

According to March on for Voting Rights, 48 states have introduced 389 bills that are a threat to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  March on for Voting Rights is hosting a nationwide demonstration on Aug. 28, the anniversary of the first March on Washington 58 years ago, to raise awareness on threats of legal voter suppression that continues to affect communities of color.

However the work does not begin on Aug. 28.  Voting Rights activists have been working diligently since before last year’s general election to ensure that all Americans could vote with ease.  Over the summer, with major voting and civil rights legislation in states such as Arizona and Texas at play, activists have turned up the heat on Capitol Hill to ensure that lawmakers understand the importance of the voting rights fight and the challenges at stake if not taken seriously- particularly for Americans of color.

Many voting rights activists are asking Congress to stop the filibuster and pass national voting rights protections that will prevent any states from creating laws that increase voter suppression.

As leaders planned the national march on Aug. 28, they took the time to reflect on the highlights and remaining challenges in America’s voting rights fight.

“There is something happening in the fabric . Last year after the death of George Floyd we saw more civil rights demonstrations by Americans than we’ve seen in a long time… That same energy is being galvanized around expanding the right to vote,” said King III, son of the fallen Civil Rights hero, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..

“My father used to say that a voteless people is a powerless people, and the most powerful step that we can take is that short step to the ballot box,” King III, who serves as chairman of the Drum Major Institute, continued.  “We must demand that America become who it ought to be, and one of the ways it does that is through its most fundamental right: the right to vote. 

“Achieving change, especially legislative change is not based on the urgency of the lawmakers- it is based on the urgency of those of us that are going to force the lawmakers.  Nobody got up one morning and said ‘it’s time to give people a right to vote.’ It was the Women’s Movement and the Civil Rights Movement that made that urgency happen,” Sharpton said.  the votes didn’t look like they were there. That’s why activists have to get acting — if it was already there, we would have never had a movement. Lyndon Johnson didn’t lead the Voting Rights Movement, he signed the bill. Joe Biden will sign this bill, and we’re going to be the ones that make sure that there’s something for him to sign.”  

Other strong voices in the voting rights fight were present for the meeting marking the 56th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, including: President of the Drum Major Institute Arndrea Waters King; 51 for 51’s Stasha Rhodes; Political and Strategic Campaigns Director for March On for Voting Rights Andi Pringle; as well as Alejandro Chavez, organizer and grandson of famed Civil Rights activist César Chávez.

The current Civil Rights leaders encouraged people to continue fighting for the right signed into legislation 56 years ago by raising awareness and marching on Aug. 28.

“This is the moment that either we do what is right and honest, and rescue democracy, or we take a huge step towards autocracy. That’s what the March On for Voting Rights is all about,” Pringle said in a statement submitted by March On for Voting Rights

“Today, 18 states have signed more than 30 bills into law. They undo so much of the progress that was made in voting access, not just in the 2020 election, but since the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed. We’re standing in the middle of what you might call a perfect storm, but it’s really an existential crisis for democracy in America,” Pringle continued. 

“I believe this is our ‘I Have a Dream’ moment. This is our ‘Si Se Puede’ moment — to come together and say ‘this is it’…it’s about equal rights for everyone across the board,” said Chavez, referencing the famous speech given by Dr. King at the March on Washington in 1963 and the motto in Spanish, created during his grandfather’s famous 25-day fast in 1972. “For the organizers and everyone around the country that fights for farmworkers’ rights, fights for civil rights, fights for ERA rights, fights for every issue — if we do not protect voting rights now, those issues do not matter.”

Waters King emphasized marching on Aug. 28 as a way to join the continued voting rights fight.

“For those who wonder whether they would have marched with Dr. King or Cesar Chavez, the answer is in whether you’re marching now,” said Waters King, who also is King III’s wife. “As Martin’s father said, ‘Change has never rolled in on wheels of inevitability. It’s always been through the tireless efforts of men and women doing their part in co-creation with God.’ If there are elected officials who don’t believe that there’s still passion around this movement, on Aug. 28 we the people are going to show our power in numbers, unlike ever before.

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Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor