Last weekend I visited the cities of Montgomery and Selma, AL.  During my stay there I had the opportunity to visit The Legacy Museum, The National Memorial for Peace and Justie, and walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the first time.  Remarkably, the things that so many marched, litigated, and died over; the right to vote is still playing out today.  In the coming days the passing of the new voting rights act named after long time congressman and patriot John Lewis hangs in the balance.  Many of the sound bites coming out of congress today mirrors those dissenting voices from over sixty years ago, with phrases of “state’s rights, federal takeover, not necessary.”  If you only listened to the comments, you almost couldn’t tell what was 1962 or what was 2022.  Which begs the question are we moving forward?

            Perhaps it was providence or mere happenstance that my trip to the bedrock of the civil rights and voting rights movement coincided with the current voting measure being debated.  The last time the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized was in 2006, by President George W. Bush.  H.R. 9, the Fannie Lou Hammer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization passed the US Senate 98-0 and 390-33 in the US House; extending the law another 25 years.  Sixteen years later, reaching a majority like that in both houses seems herculean if not fantastical on almost any piece of legislation, let alone a historic bill such as the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.   

The victory and security of 2006 was short lived as seven years later in Shelby County v. Holder, the US Supreme Court held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional.  Since that decision there has been a slew of changes in voting practices enacted in states across the country, alleged to bring “integrity and security” to the election process.  However we have gotten here, the time is now for those to be on the right side of history. 

The last federal election produced record turnout and many point to that and say see there is no need for this national election bill.  Despite that turnout barriers/protections went up almost overnight as a counter punch to progress, and states rushed to find a solution to a nonexistent problem.  As Fannie Lou Hammer so eloquently said years ago, “Is this America?”

Before I finished my journey across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I gazed down on the Alabama River below.  It was a quiet serene Sunday afternoon and although I couldn’t hear the echoes of those brave marchers that put everything on the line for the right to vote in ’65, I could see their steps, and the direction they were headed. They were still headed to the capitol, but this time not to Montgomery, but Washington, D.C.  It’s time those in the nation’s capitol take that next step and pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.         

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