Educate, Organize, Mobilize — My congratulations go out to Countywide Community Development Corporation and its dedicated staff that produced a dynamic program this past week. The program was entitled Celebrating the Dream and commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by honoring African-American elected officials from Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender Counties.
Many of our readers know that I’ve been writing about voter suppression and November 2016 General Election for nearly two years. The town hall meeting presented the best overview on voting rights that I’ve witnessed in the last two year or longer. The brilliant panelist included Rep. Henry M. Michaux, Jr., Rep. Rodney Moore, Rep. Garland Pierce, Chairman of the NC Legislative Black Caucus, Rep. John Richard C. King, Vice-Chairperson, SC Legislative Black Caucus, Professor Irv Joyner, NC Central University School of Law and Theodore Shaw, Director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights.
To a person, the panelist gave very strategic ideas that if coordinated and followed, will lead to success in our campaign to defeat voter suppression and to elected candidates that support voting rights in November 2016. Nothing that was said suggested anything that would protect our voting rights but a hard fight going forward.
Rep. Michaux made the opening statement for the panel and related facts about his voting rights advocacy going back more than 50 years. That advocacy included voter education and registration in the early 60’s, working closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, including “Selma.” Today, Michaux is the loudest voice in the NC General Assembly that is consistently raised against voter suppression. Among other observations, Rep. Michaux spoke to the need of community mobilization to promote and protect hard won voting rights.
Rep. Moore addressed what he saw as the responsibility of Black elected officials in protecting voting rights. He indicated that in his opinion Black elected officials had a unique obligation to protect and promote Black voting rights because they were the primary beneficiaries of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and were elected to serve as a result of it.
Rep. Pierce spoke to the need for the entirety of the community of Blacks and progressives to be actively engaged in fighting for voter rights protection. He, Rep. Michaux and Rep. Moore spoke to the unique leadership responsibilities of the NC Legislative Black Caucus and the fact that they would be acting on voter protection and mobilization.
A very important observation was made by Rep. King of the SC Legislative Black Caucus. He opined that although the Confederate flag came down in South Carolina, the policies of degradation and exploitation of Blacks in South Carolina remains the same. He highlighted the fact that Black businesses in South Carolina receive about (1%) one-percent of the value of contracts for goods and services and that it was incumbent for Black elected officials to aggressively promote economic equity in the spending of public resources.
Professor Joyner reminded the audience of the history of Jim Crow in Wilmington and throughout the South and that if young Blacks are involved in the protection of voting rights and community empowerment, it is because in too many instances Black families have failed to teach their children our painful lessons from the past.
Attorney Shaw recounted his history as a voting rights litigator for the NAACP Legal Defense and surmised that our fight to defeat voter suppression is essential. Shaw and several other panelists observed that it took nearly 95 years of blood and struggle after the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870 to win passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Theirs was a cautionary note not to expect a quick or easy fix for the voter suppression laws that have spread across the country.
It is my opinion that all individuals and organizations that want to protect and promote voting rights should host forums similar to the one described herein. It would also be helpful if a non-profit would host and record such a forum to be used as a model for those that would benefit from such.
Although it was not said outright, there seemed to be a general consensus that if Black elected officials accept their responsibility of promoting and protecting voting rights they could successfully mobilize their constituents and other voters across North Carolina.
In a recent call to action, Michaux was quoted as saying, “I remember standing on the front lines during the civil rights movement besides many people who fought and died because we believed then, like we do now, that every single voter deserved fair and equal access to the ballot box.” He noted that the war against voter suppression is not over and that according to an Elon University research report, over 90% of our college campuses had no Early Voting location on campus in 2014.
Michaux stressed that voting is a fundamental right and we need to be increasing access to the polls, not eliminating precincts and voting locations. He stated that he was working with others to fund and develop the North Carolina Voting Rights Institute that will train and support activists across the state to stand up against voter suppression.
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