NEW YORK, NY— Thousands took to the streets of midtown Manhattan on Saturday, December 10th — United Nations Human Rights Day — to Stand for Freedom, part of an aggressive campaign to fight back against attacks on voting rights in states across the nation that would threaten the freedom of millions of Americans in 2012 and beyond.
“History has shown that when people come after your right to vote, they are just getting started,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “Everything we care about is at stake in this fight – the right to equal opportunity, the right for every child to attend a quality school, the right to clean water and clean air and the right of immigrants to be treated with dignity and respect.”
In addition to President Jealous, demonstrators were rallied by a coalition of union, civil rights, and community leaders, including George Gresham, 1199SEIU President; Anthony Romero, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union; Michael Mulgrew, United Federation of Teachers President; Marc Morial, National Urban League President; Barbara Arnwine, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel; Civil Rights Activist, Rev. Al Sharpton; Lillian Rodríguez López, Executive Director, Hispanic Federation; and Margaret Fung, Executive Director, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, among others. Musician Wyclef Jean also performed.
The march kicked off at 61st Street and Madison Avenue — the NYC headquarters of Koch Industries, major bankrollers of state legislative efforts to suppress and block voting across the country. Busloads of protestors flocked to the city from Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, Connecticut, Buffalo, Rochester and several other cities to join the cause, culminating in a rally across from the United Nations building.
Hazel Dukes, President of the NAACP NYS Conference said “it is truly disheartening to see that nearly 50 years after the passage of landmark Civil Rights legislation, our nation has not fully embraced the idea of change and equality. The enactment of these state election laws is a reflection of a troubled past that we are forced to relive, and will only continue to impede progress of America and its people.”
“National Action Network and I see the assault on voters with Voter ID laws, the end of early voting, and other measures as a blatant attempt to undermine the Voter Rights Act,” added Rev. Al Sharpton, President of National Action Network. “The Nation cannot honor Dr. King and undo his work at the same time. We will fight it in the courts and in the streets.”
Today’s march comes on the heels of a joint report released by the NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund examining the impact of scores of legislative proposals nationwide. Titled Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America, the report details a plethora of voter suppression initiatives, including stringent voter ID requirements, bans on the formerly incarcerated and oppressive rules on voter registration and early voting periods. While voters in some states can request free photo IDs from state motor vehicles departments, they must still pay to obtain underlying documents, such as birth certificates, necessary to get the photo ID, potentially discouraging them from voting as a result. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, the burden of these new restrictions will fall heaviest on youth, minority, low-income and disabled voters, groups which have seen surges in turnout in recent years.
“The so-called problem of voter fraud is a myth, the percentage is miniscule,” said George Gresham, President of 1199SEIU. “These new laws are suddenly being pushed after the historic 2008 presidential election when Americans headed to the polls in droves. Now as we prepare for the 2012 elections, it’s difficult to believe that this isn’t some kind of ploy to keep poor people, working people, or people of color away from the polls.”
“In our democracy, few things are as sacred and as fundamental to our democracy as the right to vote, Bob Edgar, President, Common Cause. “That makes what we’re seeing these days very troubling. Big, self-interested money, like the kind that comes from the Koch Brothers, is fueling voter suppression efforts from coast to coast.