Congress and Activists Mobilize to Fight Voter Suppression

June 23, 2016

June 23 voting rights press conference; Rep. Veasey, (D-Texas), Rep. Sewell, (D- Alabama) Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rainbow -- PUSH, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Hip Hop Caucus, Barbara Arnwine, chair of the Voting Rights Alliance, Terry O'Neill, National Organization For Women and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-New York). (Photo: Ben Ptashnik)

June 23 voting rights press conference; Rep. Veasey, (D-Texas), Rep. Sewell, (D- Alabama) Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rainbow -- PUSH, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Hip Hop Caucus, Barbara Arnwine, chair of the Voting Rights Alliance, Terry O'Neill, National Organization For Women and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-New York). (Photo: Ben Ptashnik)

In May, a group of Congress members organized to launch a new Voting Rights Caucus, the first official congressional organization devoted to the cause of defending electoral democracy. 

A main objective of the new caucus is to force Congress to take up the Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 2867). Introduced in 2015 by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Alabama), the bill seeks to restore pre-clearance Section 5 provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Regions with ugly histories of racial discrimination -- nine states and more than 60 counties -- previously had to seek preclearance from the Department of Justice for any changes to their voting laws. The conservative Supreme Court majority struck down pre-clearance on the bizarre proposition that it was no longer needed because the Voting Rights Act had been "working well." 

In her sharp dissent of Shelby, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that destroying preclearance is like "throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

The Voting Rights Act had been renewed under the Reagan administration and both Bush administrations with overwhelming bipartisan support. Yet it has become clear that the new GOP majority in Congress has no intention of continuing to uphold this essential defense against discrimination: GOP leaders have refused to hold one congressional hearing on voting rights in the three years since Shelby. 

Representative Terri Sewell, who was born in Selma, spoke passionately at the press conference explaining that in the Shelby decision the Supreme Court had challenged Congress to modernize the Voting Rights Act, but all efforts to do so were obstructed by the GOP. It’s now clear that any movement for voter protection will require both a serious, broad-based, people-powered protest movement for democracy, and also a change in the leadership of the Congress.

At the grassroots level, citizens are also organizing in profound ways to educate the population and inspire action. The new Voting Rights Alliance was formed in June to support the Voting Rights Caucus. On June 23, Alliance members from across the country came to DC for a rally and press conference. Speakers included Representatives Sewell and Veasey, Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition, Terry O’Neill of the National Organization For Women, Rev. Lennoxx Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, and Barbara Arnwine, Chair of the Voting Rights Alliance.

At the same time thousands of callers flooded the Congressional Switchboard, demanding the House Speaker and Judiciary Committee Chairs hold hearings on the Voting Rights Act. 

That day, the Alliance also held a Twitter town hall and a Twitter storm using the hashtag #ProtestShelby2016. The social media conversation included thousands of participants helping to launch a national campaign to push for the Voting Rights Advancement Act’s remedial legislation needed to restore voting rights, and to build a resistance movement to voter suppression.



Read: Congress and Activists Mobilize to Fight Voter Suppression