5 Signs the Voting Rights Act Will Survive

Despite a recent Supreme Court ruling that hurt the Voting Rights Act, it's far from dead. Meanwhile, popular movements to defend voting rights are gathering momentum.
Voting Rights Act rally

Scenes from a rally in front of the Supreme Court as justices were hearing cases on the Voting Rights Act. Photo by David Sachs / SEIU.

This article originally appeared on ColorLines.com.

Today marks the 48th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, after months of civil rights organizing, sit-ins, bloodshed, and deaths compelled the federal government to intervene in the struggle against Southern states that were denying African Americans the ballot.

It’s hard to celebrate this since the U.S. Supreme Court went all Mortal Kombat on the Voting Rights Act—pulling out its heart, the coverage formula for Section Five’s preclearance provision. But, fortunately, it wasn’t a fatality. The Voting Rights Act’s remaining organs remain intact, and the SCOTUS ruling has not dimmed the resolve of American citizens who’ve been rallying like revolutionaries to protect civil rights. Below are five reasons to celebrate the spirit of the Voting Rights Act on its 48th birthday, despite the right-wing attacks to finish it.

1. Attorney General Eric Holder

He was supposed to have retired from the Justice Department already. But AG Holder is proving to be an OG on the civil rights battlefield. Along with President Obama, Holder has vowed to defend and enforce what remains of the Voting Rights Act by any means necessary. Considering previous attorneys general have left voting rights hanging, we couldn’t have a better Justice Department right now.

2. Moral Mondays

Florida, Texas, and Ohio have been the historical posterkids for voting rights violations. But now North Carolina has overtaken the stage, front and center, for proposing and passing the most restrictive elections policies in the nation.

Rev. William Barber has been leading the state's NAACP, the historic “HK on J” coalition, the “Forward Together” movement, and thousands of North Carolina residents in weekly peaceful and prayerful demonstrations at the state’s legislature building to protest voter suppression. Hundreds have been arrested, including celebrities and journalists. And even though the state general assembly ended session last week, the Moral Mondays protests are continuing in other cities.

3. Dream Defenders

Go ahead and scold them for wearing their pants sagging. One thing youth of color have been standing upright on is the fight against the criminalization of what many are calling the “Trayvon Generation.” There are many examples of these new young warriors, but one of the more visible symbols these days is the Dream Defenders, a coalition of Florida youth advocacy groups who’ve been organizing around unjust laws like “Stand Your Ground” gun policies for over a year now.

The Dream Defenders have been camped out at the Florida Capitol building in Tallahassee for four weeks, joined by civil rights leaders like Jesse Jackson and Harry Belafonte. This week they will be joined by rapper Talib Kweli, League of Young Voters executive director Biko Baker, and the aforementioned Rev. William Barber, all to draw attention to civil and voting rights violations in the state.

4. The Democracy Initiative

The green movement has been long criticized for isolating themselves from the non-environmental issues that plague communities of color. After witnessing the attack on voting rights and realizing it may be impossible to enact a green agenda when democracy itself is compromised, environmental organizations like Sierra Club have now joined the voting rights fight.

They are joined, also, by groups that focus on Latino interests, immigration rights, labor rights, marriage equality, and the concerns of the gay and lesbian communities—all banded together in the wake of the SCOTUS ruling on the Voting Rights Act. Many of them are part of a coalition called The Democracy Initiative. The Initiative includes the NAACP, which has vowed to fight the conservative attack on voting rights as a united front.

5. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund

In many ways, this fight to defend voting rights protections for African Americans began with the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, and they have remained at the leadership of that fight.

Ever since the Smith v. Allwright case of 1944, which the late former Legal Defense Fund attorney Thurgood Marshall called one of the “most important cases” in civil rights history, they’ve been involved in almost every major court case involving the Voting Rights Act, including the Shelby v. Holder Supreme Court hearing in February.

NAACP LDF president Sherrilyn Ifill provided the blueprint for defending voting rights in Colorlines last month. Given their history of victories on this front, it’s worth feeling optimistic that though things still aren’t all right, there are still gladiators who refuse to back down.

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