If I walked the streets of New York City (or anywhere, really) and asked random people if they knew what happened to the Voting Rights Act last week, I wonder how many would have an answer?
If I told them that the Supreme Court just struck down a major section of the Act, would they know what I was talking about? If I said voter equality suffered the greatest setback in nearly 50 years, would they look at me like I was speaking a foreign language? Probably.
Now, if I walked the same streets and asked people about the latest episode of the “Real Housewives Of Atlanta,” an artist’s latest album, last night’s game or anything else entertainment related, I bet I’d get a lot more answers. That is a serious problem.
Sometimes, we try to act like it’s only young people who don’t pay enough attention to serious issues, or who spend too much time and energy on music, movies or television. But there are plenty of folks my age and older who can break down every fight in every reality show, but don’t know a thing about how the Supreme Court acted last week.
Think about that for a second. More people know about what happened in non-reality reality TV than what’s about to impact every single person in the country who ever wanted to exercise their right to vote. If that’s not a crying shame, I don’t know what is.
Because we Black folks were discriminated against and disenfranchised from voting with clever schemes in many places, the federal government stepped in to oversee the process, mandating national protections for the most vulnerable citizens. That’s what the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was all about. No longer could states do whatever they wanted. No longer could people be kept away from the voting booth with poll taxes, literacy tests, etc. Our parents and grandparents fought tirelessly (many even gave their lives) so we could have the chance to pick our leaders.
Last week, the Supreme Court decided to strip away that right.
They ruled Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. Section 4 basically maps what areas of the country have to get pre-clearance from the federal government before changing their laws. In other words, states and municipalities can now do whatever they want to change the rules without government oversight. So much for our equal right to vote. You better believe we’re going to see more discriminatory voter ID laws, elimination of same-day registration, fewer early voting days and more. Texas has already announced it is going to enact new voter ID requirements.
I don’t know about you, but I’m angry. Because so many people of color came out and voted in 2008 and in 2012, suddenly the rules need to be changed. Instead of trying to reach out to us, they would like to keep us away. Sorry, but we are not going to allow that to happen.
National Action Network (NAN) has been busy planning the 50th anniversary commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “March on Washington.” Our rally, taking place August 24 in Washington, D.C., will now center around voter equality and voter protection. The “National Action to Realize the Dream” will take place at the National Mall and finish at the King Memorial. I can’t think of a more urgent moment in our lifetimes to get out and march for something. Enough is enough. We need real action and we need everyone to participate, just as those who stood alongside Dr. King in 1963.
It’s time to start paying attention to the right stuff. It’s cool to have a little bit of downtime and catch a TV show, an exciting game, a concert or a movie. But if you know more about what’s going on in someone else’s life on TV than what’s happening to our laws and everything we have fought for, then you might need to pause for a minute.
Better yet, turn off that TV and let’s turn on our minds instead. Because, unless we do, the future looks bleak. And that’s the worst kind of reality.