WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com – The nationwide push to renew sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which will expire in 2007, was linked to the voteless status of the District of Columbia, which has no voting representation in either the U.S. House of Representatives or the Senate.
Rainbow/PUSH Chairman Reverend Jesse Jackson recently joined D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp and Lawrence Guyot, a founding member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, to push for public awareness of the need for renewal.
“You can come by bus, by train, by plane to march on that date to say to Lyndon Johnson, to say to Dr. King, that we thank you for that struggle but we vow to keep that struggle alive,” said Rev. Jackson. Over 20,000 people marched in Atlanta Aug. 6 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the original measure.
But a lack of commitment from the Bush administration to enforce or reauthorize the act places voting rights in jeopardy, Rev. Jackson said.
“I wouldn’t be standing where I am but for loving parents, but for activist progressive government and for the Civil Rights Movement,” Mayor Williams added. “I represent the benefit of that movement.”
In 2007, a provision of the act that requires certain jurisdictions, mostly in the South, to obtain federal pre-clearance of voting practice changes (such as redistricting) will expire, as will a section requiring certain jurisdictions to provide bilingual assistance to voters, and another that authorizes federal examiners in areas where there is evidence of minority voter intimidation.
Supporters of the acts renewal want those three provisions renewed. Mr. Guyot likened the voteless condition Blacks found themselves in the South before the Voting Rights Act, with the voteless condition of the District of Columbia in Congress. Rev. Jackson agreed, insisting that race could be the principal reason why Congress has not corrected the problem before now.
“We would not dare think of an Iraq democracy that disenfranchises Baghdad. We would not think of a new democracy in Russia that disenfranchises Moscow. The issue here is not: ‘Should D.C. have the right to vote?’ The issue really is: ‘What will the Black vote do?’” he said. “The issue becomes race schizophrenia:
‘If Blacks get two senators and a congress person, how will they vote?’ The way we choose to vote–which is our freedom in a democracy.
“The base of the D.C. debate is not about your citizens who pay more taxes than 10 states, who have more people than five states (that) have the right to vote. The question is, ‘How will they vote?’ and ‘Will they vote against us?’ In that equation is the race equation. It’s not about people.”
For his part, Mr. Guyot was clear and unambiguous. “We must renew section Five of the Voting Rights Act. We must renew Section 203. We must renew Section Four,” he told The Final Call. “Because if we do not, we will revert to the old days of states doing anything they want to deny us the right to vote; to deny us the right to run for office; to make offices that are now elected, appointed.
“Right now, any southern state that’s covered, when it contemplates political change, it must look through the prism of Section Five of the Voting Rights Act. If we remove that, we give them an unfettered right to attack our right to vote. So this must be passed,” he insisted.