Activities commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington will soon be over and civil rights groups have already begun thinking about how to move forward.
"Folks right now are focused on three or four big things. We've got to get comprehensive immigration reform, Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act restored, raise the minimum wage and folks are also very much focused on stand your ground laws and racial profiling," said NAACP president Ben Jealous at a Monday morning panel discussion on racial healing and equity. "We should have hope that we will in our lifetimes see a real renaissance as far as the power of our movement from coast to coast. We're starting to see it in various places."
Alvin Herring, director of training at the PICO National Network, said that despite setbacks to voting rights in states around the nation, there is still an opportunity to "really open up the voting process and get millions of people registered, whether it's through state legislative changes or through battles in the courts … to expand the level of voting and change the character of the electorate for good."
The Affordable Care Act is one way to do that, noted panelists at the Newseum event. It is covered under the National Voter Registration Act, which means that as people sign up for health care exchanges, they must be asked whether they would like to register to vote.
"This is an opportunity not to be missed," said Herring.
National Urban League president Marc Morial added that to protect democracy and expand voting rights requires a strengthened "army" of attorneys and activists.
"A nation that is involved in democracy protection in the Middle East and in places like Afghanistan cannot be allowed to shirk its moral responsibility to protect democracy here at home," Morial said. We've got to say it in those terms and elevate the conversation. It's not just a narrow question of what the law is; it's a bigger question of what democracy means in the 21st century."
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