This weekend People For the American Way Foundation turned out en masse for the 50th Anniversary March on Washington.
Some could remember the original march well. Some had driven across the country to be there on Saturday.
Our reasons for being there were as diverse as the range of topics covered by the speakers. Some wanted to see an end to Stand Your Ground laws; others spoke in support of immigration reform, LGBT equality, or voting rights.
But everyone stood in solidarity with those who marched half a century ago, while calling attention to the ongoing need to fight for social, economic, and racial justice. Everyone raised their voices in support of justice for all.
We saw Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) – just 23 years old when he spoke at the original March on Washington – take the podium again, speaking passionately about the need to protect the right to vote. He called it “precious…almost sacred.” Lewis recalled:
I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote.…I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us.
Members of the PFAW Foundation family also took the podium. Young People For (YP4) alum Sophia Campos spoke in personal terms about the need for change in immigration policies, saying:
I grew up in this country undocumented. My family is immigrant… A million people have been deported in the last five years….It’s our black and brown bodies in these cells that are being detained.
Another YP4 alum, Dream Defenders leader Phil Agnew, also spoke at the rally, calling on young people to take the lead in the progressive movement. Young people, he said, are “here today to join in a conversation that will shake the very foundations of this capital.”
And Rev. Charles Williams, an active member of PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, was named by the event organizers as being part of the next generation of leaders.
We came to honor those who marched 50 years ago, but also to call attention to the critical justice issues facing our country today. As PFAW Foundation President Michael Keegan wrote last week:
That’s what this week is about: making sure that we, as a country, continue to strive to fulfill the promise of justice for all -- the American Way.
In the wake of last week’s Supreme Court rulings on critical civil rights issues, a new poll finds increasing support for marriage equality and falling support for the high court itself.
A national Princeton Survey Research Associates poll found that 55 percent of Americans think that marriages of same-sex couples should be legally recognized – the highest level of support ever. A similar percentage (53 percent) believe that affirmative action programs are needed, and more Americans oppose the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a key part of the Voting Rights Act (49 percent) than support it (40 percent). In other words, the American people are not on board with the Supreme Court turning back the clock on our civil rights.
So it is not surprising that Supreme Court approval ratings are falling. The Princeton poll found the lowest level of approval (43 percent) in eight years, with slightly more Americans disapproving of the way the court is doing its job (44 percent). Similarly, a Rasmussen poll released yesterday found that the percentage of likely voters who think the Supreme Court is doing a poor job is rising.
What is more surprising is that both polls show that a greater percentage of Americans still believe that the high court is “too liberal” than believe it is “too conservative.” As PFAW President Michael Keegan pointed out in May, this is no accident:
“In recent decades, right-wing leaders have worked in popular culture to attack the courts as a liberal peril while successfully organizing to dominate and control legal institutions to create courts that no longer look out for the rights of all Americans. They have set up law schools and legal societies to promote corporate and right-wing commitments, have promoted the appointment of reactionary judges and Justices, blocked the appointment of even moderate jurists, and defined a legal agenda that subordinates individual rights to government power and public regulation to corporate power. Right-wing success in remaking the judiciary in the image of the Republican Party has not led conservatives to curb their bitter attack on ‘liberal judicial activism,’ a fantasy that is several decades out of date but indispensable to this smoke-and-mirrors operation.”
While conservatives continue to crow about “liberal judicial activism,” the American people are realizing that the Supreme Court’s conservative rulings on issues like voting rights and the rights of workers and consumers do not reflect their beliefs or the nation’s core constitutional values.
In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama used his bully pulpit to ensure that the critically important issue of voting rights is securely on the agenda in 2013. Calling it “our most fundamental right as citizens,” the President announced the formation of a non-partisan commission focused on improving our country’s system of voting.
One woman who was undoubtedly pleased to hear this news was 102-year-old Desiline Victor of Miami, seated in the House visitors’ gallery, who had waited in line for hours to cast a ballot in November’s election. President Obama noted that the country should follow her determined example: “As time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say,” he said.
After all, that is the issue at the core of a working democracy: whether folks get to have their say.
Leading up to the election, our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s leadership programs witnessed and stood up to efforts across the country – ranging from unnecessary registration obstacles to early voting restrictions – to suppress the votes of those who have traditionally been disenfranchised: communities of color, low-income communities, and youth. In the past two years alone, more than 65 suppressive voter ID bills were introduced in 34 states.
That’s why it is important that President Obama made it clear last night that he is serious about addressing the problems in our election system. With increased access to early voting and an end to discriminatory voter ID laws, we can ensure that all Americans “get to have their say” at the polls.
In the last few weeks and months we’ve already seen the Right employ some outrageous dirty tricks to suppress the vote.
The job of election officials should be to make sure every eligible voter who shows up to cast a ballot can do so and have that vote count. But we’ve seen numerous right-wing secretaries of state and county election supervisors instead take it upon themselves to act as partisan operatives, placing their thumb on the scale to benefit their party’s candidates. And right-wing political operatives and activists have been using various tools to confuse, misinform and intimidate voters.
This is just what we’ve seen so far. Who knows what we’ll see in the final days leading up to Election Day and on Election Day itself!
Here are the Top 11, in no particular order:
In addition to the voter suppression tactics on this list, instances keep popping up of voters receiving confusing or incorrect voting information from state voting authorities. We’re not listing it as a dirty trick because there’s no evidence of intent to disenfranchise, the states simply claim incompetence, and these are primarily the same states – run by Republicans – that have just had major changes to voting requirements. But the result for voters is the same, and we’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
And finally, we urge the Department of Justice to keep a close eye on this election, both to prevent voter suppression and to make sure votes are counted properly. There have been widespread problems with certain types of electronic voting machines and vote counting machines reported over several election cycles. In this election, there’s an appearance of severe impropriety in that many voting machines, including many used in the all-important swing state of Ohio, have been provided by a company that is essentially part owned by Tagg Romney as well as some of the largest donors to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
Democracy should be free of the suspicion created by the corporate entanglements of the business interests of candidates, their families or their closest supporters.
Read more about the Right’s campaign to keep millions of Americans from the ballot box here.
And help PFAW overcome the Right’s dirty tricks to STOP Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and extremist Tea Party candidates at every level with a donation today.
The Republican Party claims to be the party of small government -- with the obvious exceptions of denying marriage equality and massive government oversight of women's medical decisions. But there is another kind of big government that the party has overwhelmingly, enthusiastically gotten behind: expensive and intrusive attempts to make it harder for Americans to vote.
A trio of federal court decisions in Florida, Ohio and Texas last week ripped the lid off the increasingly successful right-wing campaign to limit opportunities for low-income people, minorities and students to vote -- especially, and not coincidentally, in swing states. These decisions, from even-handed and moderate federal judges across the country, show just how far the Right has gone to use the power of government to disenfranchise traditionally disenfranchised groups.
In Florida, a federal judge permanently blocked a law that had made it almost impossible for good government groups to conduct voter registration drives -- which had led groups like the venerable League of Women Voters to all but shut down operations in the state. In Ohio, a federal court ordered the state to reopen early voting in the three days before November's election, which Republicans had attempted to shut down. Early voting on the weekend before the election was enormously successful in 2008 -- especially among African Americans -- and the judge found that Republicans had no legitimate reason to want it to stop.
And finally a federal court, which is required to review changes in election policy in states and counties with a history of voting discrimination, ruled that Texas' new voter ID law couldn't go forward because it "imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas."
The effort that Republican governors and legislatures across the country have gone through in the past two years to make it more difficult for citizens to vote is truly remarkable. They have been willing to buck both the law and the spirit of our constitutional democracy to bar groups of people from participating in it. And they have been willing to set up extra layers of government and bureaucracy -- things they claim to despise -- in order to keep people from the polls.
There are plenty of areas of genuine disagreement in our politics, but the right to vote shouldn't be one of them. In an interview with The Atlantic last week, Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the Civil Rights movement, said "there should be public outcry" and a "sense of righteous indignation" at what is happening to our elections. He's right.
It's astounding that nearly 50 years after the Voting Rights Act banned racial discrimination at the polls, it's still needed as a shield against such egregious violations of its principles. And it's astounding that the self-proclaimed party of small government wants to use government's power to keep people from exercising their fundamental right to vote.