The struggle for equality, for justice, for freedom, for democracy is an awesome force. No force, no historical circumstance, has done more to shape our nation. But that struggle has confronted an endless series of attempts to block, minimize, sidetrack, undo, and weaken our democracy. Through all these struggles, those most oppressed have repeatedly taken the lead to reinforce our democracy and solidify our nation.
We fought a bloody, wrenching Civil War to end a nation that was suffocating “half slave and half free.” Three million men fought in that war and six hundred and twenty thousand died. Though African Americans made up one percent of the population of the North, they made up ten percent of the Union Army.
In the aftermath Congress sought to enshrine in the Constitution, forever, basic democratic rights: in the 14th Amendment the power to enforce the Bill of Rights, Due Process and Equal Rights and in the 15th Amendment voting rights “regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” But a violent, terrorist backlash led by the Ku Klux Klan prevented the implementation of our Constitution for a hundred years until a new Civil Rights struggle, based on non-violence, but no less powerful, forced our nation, the courts and this Congress to recognize those promised Constitutional rights.
Among the forms of recognition were the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. They transformed the political landscape of America. But the truth is that beginning as far back as the Nixon administration there were efforts to chip away at those rights. Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision undermining the enforcement of voting rights is the latest attempt to roll back history.
The rapidly changing demographics of our nation are calling new forces into the struggle for civil and voting rights every day and our response to yesterday’s Supreme Court decision presents a challenge to every Member of this Congress: which side are you on?
For me, the path is clear: we need a Federal Right to Vote enshrined in our Constitution, one clearly, unambiguously, boldly, proudly asserting that we will not tolerate any infringement on our rights as citizens to express the will of the people. Those who seek to dilute voting rights, to place barriers to every citizen’s right to participate in this government will find themselves on the wrong side of history and in the end will be no more able to stop the movement for equality, for justice, for freedom, for democracy than they are able to stop the sun from rising in the morning or setting in the evening.