Statement by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II at America's Journey For Justice News Conference in Raleigh, NC on August 18, 2015.
Let me first thank Rep. Mickey Michaux who is here with us this morning. During the trial in Winston Salem, Rep Michaux was more than brilliant in his telling of the story of voting rights in this country. He along with Ms. Rosa Nell Eaton were featured recently in a major article published by the NY Times on the “Undoing of America.”
This morning, let me also honor the memory and legacy of Mr. Julian Bond. He was the Fredrick Douglass of our times, who said, ‘those who say race is history have it wrong, history is race.” He also told us in a speech last year that, “those who want us to believe that 250 years of slavery and 100 years of jim crow have all been wiped out by 50 years of reluctant and modest implementation of laws to address historic and unprecedented racism are sadly mistaken.” He was a deep and passionate supporter of the Forward Together Movement from the very beginning.
Mr. Bond was a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. which led the effort to inaugurate freedom summer. Freedom summer led the organization to Selma, and on August 6, 1965, 50 years and 12 days ago, the events of freedom summer lead to the passage of the voting rights act.
It is on the foundation of this history and the extreme regressivism we are seeing today that I, along with the national board and president of the NAACP, Attorney Cornelle Brooks, are engaging in an 880 mile journey for justice declaring that our votes, our lives, our schools, and our jobs matter.
This journey began August 1 and is a direct action through the southern states of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington D.C. We are calling for congress to: cease its more than 2 years of non action and political filibuster on fixing and restoring sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965; to pass criminal justice reform that will stop police violence against unarmed black people; to pass legislation that will fully support public education; and to pass legislation that will address poverty and raise the minimum wage to a living wage.
This journey will end in Washington, D.C. where there will be massive advocacy and lobbying for Congress to strengthen the Voting Rights Act. We anticipate a possible Moral Monday type action in the halls of Congress that will include clergy from across the nation. This action will especially focus on the denial of Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act. It’s time for America to take a fresh journey for freedom.
In North Carolina, we will focus on voting rights. This is our focus, our journey and our sacrifice now because the right to vote is the cornerstone of American democracy. The free exercise of the right to vote is essential to the preservation and protection of all other constitutional rights. Yet, instead of embracing this important principle of inclusion, too many have recently sought to make it harder for Americans, especially black and other minorities, to exercise their fundamental right.
Today, the United States is experiencing an assault on voting rights that is historic in its scope and in its intensity. Today, we are seeing attempts to abridge the right to vote like none we have seen since the 19th century. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s devastating June 25, 2013 decision in Shelby County,—which invalidated core protections in the Voting Rights Act, particularly section 5 that required preclearance —15 states, mostly in the south, launched attacks on voting rights. Twenty-one states have implemented some type of voter suppression law or policy that directly targets Black Americans and others who have been historically denied equal justice. Moreover, there are 113 voter suppression proposals pending in 33 states.
As he signed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson said, “Today is a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield.” Yet, almost 48 years later, on June 25, 2013, the same day that in 1773, slaves first petitioned the state and America for freedom, 5 Supreme Court judges, despite a extensive record proving discrimination that was voted on by 98 senators in 2006, dismantled the Voting Right Act and said to southern legislatures lead by extremist like ours, that now your state does not have to worry about voting laws. A new season is open to roll back and suppress the right to vote.
Since the days of deconstruction in the late 1800s when southern dixiecrats sought and passed laws that would abridge the rights to newly freed blacks and undermine their power and participation, we’ve not seen an attack on voting rights or an attempt to abridge the right to vote like we have seen in NC. In August of 2013, House Bill 589, the monster Voter Suppression Bill, was pushed though the General Assembly without debate and signed by the Governor of this state. How dare these extremist use their political power to desecrate the Voting Rights Act. How dare they desecrate the graves, memories, and blood of Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, James Reed, Jimmie Lee Jackson, Viola Luizzo and so many others.
We continue our journey because we know Justice Roberts whose has been on a life-long crusade to roll back civil rights laws was wrong when he said, “Our country has changed,” to the point of not needing the Voting Rights Act. The central premise of Shelby County is that, while America was once consumed by the kind of “‘pervasive,’ ‘flagrant,’ ‘widespread,’ and ‘rampant’ discrimination” that can justify a fully operational Voting Rights Act, our nation has sufficiently fixed its racism problem to the point that the full-formed act can no longer exist. “[T]hings have changed dramatically” in the 50 years since the Voting Rights Act became law.”
As one writer noted, and we agree, “the Constitution does not give the Supreme Court the power to decide how much racism is enough racism to permit so-called “extraordinary” measures intended to correct it. To the contrary, the Constitution provides that “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” and that “Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
We know the Voting Rights Act is needed because we recently heard Thomas Farr, the lead attorney for the state of North Carolina, say in open court that the state did not need to justify why it passed the monster voter suppression law in North Carolina. He further stated that it was the state’s business and that the legislature had the votes and the power to change the law. He went on to suggest that because it is no longer required to review changes to the Voting Rights Act, if the legislature wanted to retrogress to voter suppression, the courts really have no jurisdiction to challenge it.
This is why Justice Ginsberg was right in her dissent in Shelby County when she said, “Congress approached the 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act with great care and seriousness. The same cannot be said of the Court's opinion today. The Court makes no genuine attempt to engage with the massive legislative record that Congress assembled. Instead, it relies on increases in voter registration and turnout as if that were the whole story. Without even identifying a standard of review, the Court dismissively brushes off arguments based on "data from the record," and declines to enter the "debate about what the record shows"…One would expect more from an opinion striking at the heart of the Nation's signal piece of civil-rights legislation." “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” Justice Ginsberg also reminded the court of the “Bloody Sunday” campaign for voting rights in Selma, Ala., and quoted Martin Luther King’s hopeful determination when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This is why we journey.
North Carolina will pick up the America Journey for Justice from August 29 through September 7.
On Augsust 29 marchers will begin at US Highway 1, near Rockingham NC, at the North Carolina State Line
On August 29 at 7:30PM, our youth will host a Cultural Artist Teach-In at Southern Middle School at 717 Johnson St. in Aberdeen, NC
On August 31 at 7:00PM there will be a Voting Rights teach-in at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church at 1801 Hillsborough St., Raleigh, NC
On September 1 at 10:00AM there will be simultaneous press conferences and voting rights actions at congressional offices located in various cities across the state where we will be delivering letters demanding the Senate to act on the current Voting Rights Advancement Act. This act was filed by Senator Patrick Leahy as an effort to restore the vital protections lost in the Shelby County decision.
On September 3, we will march and rally in front of the Governor’s office where we will be joined by our national president of the NAACP.
The September 3 action will be three days after we go back to the NC Supreme Court to address the issues of the apathied type redistricting plan that was sent back by the US Supreme court because our state court didn't ask the right questions about race.
Finally, we have been in touch with the Highway Patrol, the SBI and FBI. The Highway Patrol will provide full coverage for the march. It is sad that we have to have police protection in the 21st century to walk for justice, but nothing will deter us. FORWARD TOGETHER NOT ONE STEP BACK!!