On the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, when news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached enslaved people in Texas, Black Americans are still fighting to be treated as equals in this country. As our community faces the disproportionate impact of COVID-19, continued unjust killings at the hands of the police and the ongoing economic impact of systemic racism, an unprecedented wave of protests for racial justice has swept the country. In this moment when the power of the people is focused on systemic change, our right to vote and have our voices heard at the ballot box is more important than ever before.
But in 2020, we’re still fighting the fight of 1965 for voting rights. Since the 2013 Supreme Court decision to gut the Voting Rights Act, a wave of new voter suppression laws have made it harder for poorer communities, immigrant communities, indigenous communities, and communities of color to vote. This is especially true in Southern states like North Carolina and Georgia, where the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow are with us still.
That’s why last Tuesday, amid protests to protect Black lives from a racist criminal justice system and the global coronavirus pandemic, people in Georgia waited in hours and hours of lines just to be faced with broken voting machines. Make no mistake, the system is not broken. It is working hard, just as it was designed, to suppress and silence marginalized voters.
For more than 50 years, Congressman John Lewis has been a champion in the fight to undo the systemic silencing of voices and guarantee every citizen the right to vote. In a new documentary on his life, coming out on July 3, John Lewis: Good Trouble tells the story of this American hero’s determination to see America live up to her promise to all people. By refusing to give up the fight for racial justice, equality, and voting rights, Congressman Lewis is the embodiment of what it means to do the right thing no matter, or getting into what he calls “good trouble.”
As co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, I’m honored to join together with the Good Trouble campaign, which will celebrate Congressman Lewis’ legacy and provide resources to learn about voter suppression across the country and encourage folks to support voting rights, participate in civic engagement efforts in their communities and support local efforts that empower disenfranchised communities to fully participate in our democracy. As we lift up a broad coalition of marginalized Americans to champion a bold and transformative moral agenda in this election year, it’s essential that millions of us get into “good trouble” and take up the work to which Congressman Lewis has devoted so much of his life.
We have waited too long to be heard, and we have so much to say. Our elected officials must be held accountable for both the unjust killings of Black Americans and the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on the same community. And we must reach across historic dividing lines and acknowledge that these same systems are killing too many poor white, brown, Native and Asian neighbors. Too many people in our public life have been too comfortable with other people’s death. Now is the time to organize towards collective action to enact a moral agenda for the nation, which is why the Poor People’s Campaign will be holding its Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington tomorrow, June 20.
People who have been directly impacted by poverty, systemic racism, ecological devastation, the war economy and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism will put a face on the pain of 140 million poor and low income Americans. And we will challenge politicians from both parties to win our vote by embracing the transformative policies we know this nation needs.
The right to vote is a critical part of a strong and equitable democracy. Unfortunately, with the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, that right is under attack — especially for the Black community. We must keep this energy moving forward towards progress and take it to the polls. That doesn’t mean just making sure your friends and family are voting. It also means rolling up your sleeves and working to break down the systems that are silencing our fellow Americans. That means educating yourself on history and context, and how you can be part of the solution.
It’s easy to look back at history and think you would have been on the right side, getting into “good trouble” when justice demanded it. But history is calling now. What will you do to answer its cry?
The Dr. Rev. William J. Barber II is the President of Repairers of the Breach and Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: National Call for A Moral Revival.
Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call