In an effort to spur activism and create a political tipping point on the issue, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are joining forces with National Action Network President Rev. Al Sharpton against voter suppression. Rev. Sharpton will lead a march from Selma, Alabama tracing the historic steps of Dr. Martin Luther King. He will be joined by several members of the CBC.
The march will begin on Sunday, March 4 in Selma, Alabama and end on March 9 in Montgomery. One goal is to recreate three historic voting rights marches in 1965. As a result of those efforts, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on August 6, 1965.
“We will stay in the same encampments that Dr. King and the marchers stayed at in 1965,” Sharpton said. Alabama’s immigration laws will also be a focus of the effort.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in this country but we are going backwards when people — based on what they look like — become suspects,” Sharpton said referring to Alabama’s immigration laws.
“In this day and age, when states like my own are now promulgating voter ID laws that actually suppress and discourage folks from voting, something needs to be done,” said Freshman CBC Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama.
Sharpton said the march is a kickoff to turn the political table against present voter ID laws in 34 states with a “national mobilization” effort. The National Urban League, the NAACP, LaRaza and NOW will also be part of Sharpton’s march.
Sharpton views the march and rally effort as a chance to resist laws already passed and galvanize critical mass against them rather than simply accept what is now law. “We don’t want to accommodate that until we have to get there,” Sharpton said answering a reporter’s question on whether his efforts would help voters navigate existing laws.
“We don’t want to give anyone the notion that we are trying to accommodate this lie,” Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisc.) also told reporters. “The bar should be very high to disenfranchise someone,” she added.
Texas, Kansas, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Indiana, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama and Michigan all have voter ID laws.
In addition to the Sharpton march the Congressional Black Caucus is planning a voter protection tour that would include voter registration and education while providing voter IDs.
The first individual efforts by a CBC member will be a voter symposium hosted by Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO). Clay will be joined by Rev. Al Sharpton for an event on March 16 in his St. Louis district on voter suppression. There will also be voter registration and education at the event. The Missouri legislature is considering a new voter ID law that could pass in time for the November elections.
Sharpton, who hosts Politics Nation on MSNBC and the nationally syndicated radio program Keepin’ It Real, will broadcast from Alabama the week of the march. He and many members of Congress believe the voter suppression effort is an attempt to systematically roll back the gains of the Civil Rights movement.
“The drama of going back to Selma and staying every night where they stayed in 1965 creates a irrevocable picture to America that they are uprooting and undermining what was achieved in the Civil Rights movement,” Sharpton said.
Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), speaking on the tie between the march and the larger Civil Rights movement, recounted a story of how her father taught her how to deal with the Ku Klux Klan.
“We cannot go back. Too many people fought and died like my daddy so that I could vote. So that I could exercise the right to vote and I refuse — I refuse to go back,” Wilson added. “I will march with Rev. Sharpton, I will march with anyone who is trying to stop the clock from going back,” Wilson said.
Wilson also said she served in the Florida legislature for 12 years and no voter ID laws passed.
“All of a sudden after the 2008 election, these [voter ID laws] miraculously appear. Why? Because we have a Black President in the White House. It’s to stop all of the people of color from standing in line and from coming out to vote,” Wilson added, putting a strong tone of urgency on the issue.
In November 2011, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Charlie Gonzalez made a similar point.
“We are revisiting that horrible period in the history of this country,” Gonzalez said, referring to new strict voter ID laws in Texas. “What this law will do is disenfranchise a certain segment of our community in Texas. Need I tell you what that segment may be… it’s gonna be minorities, of course,” he said.
A reporter from the Birmingham News asked Sharpton if the President or any Obama Administration officials would attend his march. “We have not asked the Administration to march. We are doing this as civil rights groups and today announcing Congressional support,” he answered.
“A lot of these laws are being proposed by Republicans across this country,” Sharpton said. “Isn’t it interesting that they did not ask for voter ID for any caucuses and primaries,” Sharpton said.
The wrong candidate, Mitt Romney, was declared the “winner” of the Iowa Caucuses only to have Rick Santorum be declared the winner three weeks later.
“One of the things this march will do is put a lot of visibility and pressure on everyone to do whatever they can do… we intend to meet with and have asked to meet with the Attorney General and the President on this issue, he added.
Also attending the press conference with Sharpton were Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Hansen Clarke (D-MI), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Karen Bass (D-CA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).
LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE, Politic365 Chief Congressional Correspondent, publishes the blog Crewof42 on the Congressional Black Caucus. She is heard every Tuesday on WMCS 1290 in Milwaukee on Earl Ingram’s show The Evening Rush as well as on WHUR and WPFW in Washington DC. You can follow her on twitter at @crewof42