Civil Rights Groups Form United Front on Voting Rights Battleground

After a meeting with Obama, leaders are fired up and ready to mobilize the nation.

Posted: 07/30/2013 09:59 AM EDT

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and other leaders discuss voting rights at the White House. (Photo: REUTERS/Larry Downing)

The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington was supposed to be a day of celebration. After all, what says "We Have Overcome" better than the election and then overwhelming re-election of an African-American president? But despite achieving a milestone that was for most Blacks unimaginable 50 years ago, these days 2013 is feeling a bit too much like 1963.

Most at stake is the fundamental right to vote thanks to a Supreme Court decision in June that invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which determined which states must seek pre-approval to change voting laws and procedures. So, instead of commemorating the march, this year's activities will focus more on continuing its mission.

"We think it's sad, frankly, that we're at this moment that we have to engage in this kind of work to ensure that our democratic processes remain open," Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told reporters after a meeting with President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss the impact of the high court's decision and how to move forward.

The days leading up to the march anniversary on Aug. 24 will be filled with teachable moments, said Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

"There will be a week of organized activities, teachings and training sessions centered around voting rights but also other issues related to it, like Stand your Ground laws and [immigration reform],"Campbell explained to BET.com. "It will be multi-racial and multi-ethnic, all leading up to here's what we do when we get back home."

For the Legal Defense Fund, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and other civil rights groups, that means filing legal challenges to states and other jurisdictions that implement discriminatory voting practices, in part to develop a record.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said that mayors across the nation will partner with civil rights groups and provide resources to help establish a record of efforts to discriminate against voters.

"We cannot rely on these organizations to respond without being well-sourced," Reed said.

Georgia state Rep. Calvin Smyre added that disenfranchisement can have a trickle-down effect. And while federal elections often get the most attention, changes to the voting laws also impact the election of officials closest to home.

"Those of us at the state level have to look out for those at the local and municipality levels where the Voting Rights Act can have serious repercussions," he said.

Roslyn Brock, who chairs the NAACP's board of directors, said her organization plans to register 50,000 voters in the very states that are targeting minority, low-income and other voters to keep them from the polls. They and other voters across the nation can have a very significant impact on the 2014 mid-term elections.

"Traditionally, we always come out en masse every four years and stay at home during the mid-terms," Brock told BET.com, "But that's when the game changes and we have to do more to raise awareness of the critical importance of what happens in off-year elections."

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