In our time, we are witnessing a reenactment of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s – foremost among them, efforts to suppress the African-American vote.  Now in 2014, our progressive, multiracial coalition must once again exercise our most basic civil right by voting in record numbers.

Even as we fight against voter suppression in the courts and the Congress, we must not cooperate with the forces of reaction by failing to vote.  Only by once again marching in record numbers to the voting booths of our nation this year can we protect the progress that we have achieved.

Just as it was in the 1960s, we are the foot soldiers in a 21st Century civil rights movement. This year’s elections are not an abstract debate.  They are a struggle upon which our livelihoods and lives may well depend.

President Obama is on the ballot this year – just as surely as if the president’s name headed the list of candidates.  The Republicans have been extraordinarily candid about their determination to turn back history and destroy the gains that we have achieved during Barack Obama’s presidency.

Allow me to break down what reactionary success would mean to everyday Americans – especially, to those of us who are Americans of Color.

Our Progress: The Economy

African-Americans voted in record numbers in 2008.  As a result, in 2009-2010, a Democratic Congress was able to enact and President Obama signed into law real and substantial reforms that have directly benefitted tens of millions of Americans.

In order to strengthen our economy and our ability to earn a living, we responded to the Wall Street melt down and the worst recession since the 1930s with The Economic Recovery Act.  That initiative created and saved millions of jobs and cut taxes for 98 percent of Americans.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Legislation has reined in reckless practices on Wall Street,ended taxpayer-funded bail-outs and “too big to fail” institutions, and protected and empowered American consumers.

The HIRE Act was enacted to provide tax incentives for businesses to hire more Americans (4.5 million American jobs to date), unleashing billions of dollars to rebuild highways and cracking down on offshore tax havens for the wealthy.

The Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act is now boosting the American economy and creating jobs.  The U.S. Manufacturing Enhancement Act is helping American manufacturers compete by temporarily suspending or reducing duties on materials and products which are not made domestically.

{Extended Unemployment Benefits} lifted up millions of Americans who lost their jobs in the Bush Recession and stimulated economic activity.   The Credit Card Holders Bill of Rights banned the worst practices by credit card companies and provided tough new consumer protections.

Our Progress: Education

We also invested heavily in future generations by expanding federal support for American public education. The Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act created or saved the jobs of 161,000 American teachers (and thousands of police officers and firefighters), while closing tax loopholes that encourage big corporations to ship American jobs overseas.  The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act made the largest investment in college aid in American history.

Our Progress: Health Care

We enacted the most far-reaching health insurance reforms since Medicare and Medicaid. The Affordable Care Act now recognizes health care as a federally protected right, not a privilege. “ObamaCare” also put a stop to the worst abuses by insurance companies – including discrimination against people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Children’s Health Insurance Legislation provided affordable health care coverage to 11 million children who otherwise would have gone without coverage.  The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act now provides more help for those who provide care to disabled, sick, or injured veterans and improves health care services to women veterans.

Our Progress: Civil Rights

We moved forward in the continuing expansion of civil rights. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act restored the rights of women and other workers to challenge unfair pay – helping to close the wage gap where women earn 78 cents for every $1 that a man earns.  Hate Crimes Prevention Legislation extended federal protection to people who are victims of violent crime because of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Protecting Our Progress

I have reminded you of this progress because it would not have been achieved had not we, the foot soldiers of Barack Obama’s multiracial coalition, voted in the record numbers in 2008. Then, in the 2010 mid-term elections, when President Obama’s name was not on the ballot, far too many in our coalition stayed home on Election Day.

The consequences of that failure were disastrous: reactionary state legislatures, gerrymandered congressional districts, voter suppression, a Tea Party Congress, government shutdowns and threats to default on the full faith and credit of the United States.

President Obama continues to fight for that “more perfect union” of America’s civic creed.  So must we all between now and Election Day 2014.

In our elections this year, we must protect the progress that we have made so that America can move forward toward a better day.  We are voting for our families and the generations of Americans yet unborn.

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings

Special to the AFRO