The nation will celebrate in August the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.'s famed "I Have a Dream" speech. How disappointed would the slain civil rights leader be, many now wonder, to learn of the Supreme Court's ruling this week that significantly weakened the Voting Rights Act he pushed so hard for.
The landmark legislation will be a primary focus of the commemorative march and Black leaders are hoping to use the occasion to inspire whites and minorities of every ideological stripe to help right what they believe the Supreme Court did wrong.
"This time it will not just be predominantly Black," said Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. "People who are for right are going to come here to Washington, because what was done [by the court] was wrong. And the people of this country, the good and decent people of this country, need to speak out."
Gihan Perera, executive director of Florida New Majority, in a conference call with reporters about the decision's impact on people of color, pointed to the significant role the civil rights movement played in getting the Voting Rights Act passed.
"If we learn from history and look at the Voting Rights Act and how it was produced, it was produced by people who were directly impacted, putting their lives on the line and a movement of people that made this an unpassable issue," he said.
Florida voters demonstrated a similar commitment last fall, he added, when they stood in long lines for many hours to vote, determined to cast ballots. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision, African-Americans and other minorities will need to work together to build the type of public support for voting rights that congressional lawmakers will be unable to ignore.
"There has to be a movement that's truly multiracial and can actually build a broad section of fusion politics that brings together Latinos, Asians, African-Americans, LGBT community and the women's rights movement to really come together and be a permanent political force for true democracy in this country," Perera said. "If we look back and look forward, we can actually take this as an opportunity to build the type of movement and the type of policies we need."
Some states are wasting no time and have already begun to act on the court's decision.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott quickly announced that the state's voter ID law, which had been blocked last year by the Voting Rights Act, will go into effect immediately. Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann is hoping to implement a voter ID requirement next summer.
And, North Carolina, the Associated Press reports, will consider a bill that, in addition to a voter ID provision, calls for reducing early voting, eliminating Sunday voting and barring same-day voter registration.
"This moment signals an opportunity for a significant power grab by those who don't want to value the voice of voters of color. It allows them an opportunity to manipulate our election system in such a way that they can attempt to silence us," said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project. "But we know that won't happen because we will have to be vigilant. It means we will have to bring lots of lawsuits, voters will have to report everything — from the moving of a polling place, historically an easy way to disenfranchise a community — to legislative changes."
She also said that civil and voting rights groups are determined to ensure that voters turn out in record numbers for next year's midterm elections "to show that we're not going back."
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(Photo: Edward Linsmier/Getty Images)