Civil rights history is often remembered in critical moments. Though the work was constant, and the lives of those who organized were complex and multifaceted, the history books mark specific moments when bold actions or stark decisions were made. The march on Selma. The Brown v. Board of Education decision. The “I Have a Dream” speech. The signing of the Voting Rights Act. These moments capture an era of a change.
Today we are witnessing a new chapter in civil rights. Many of the pillars of progress built during earlier eras are beginning to tumble down. From the violent police state, stained with the blood of countless unarmed Black men and women; to a wounded Voting Rights Act, gutted by the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision; to an education system riddled with school closures in our communities; equal protection under the law and equitable access to opportunity remain elusive and are challenged daily.
In recent years, North Carolina has become the epicenter of many of the most extreme attacks against the fundamental civil rights of African Americans and the poor. In 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly and Governor Pat McCrory enacted an avalanche of extreme public policy including the slashing of education budgets and jobless benefits, rejecting federal dollars to expand Medicaid, and shifting the state’s tax burden to the lowest-paid workers. Further, North Carolina was the first state to pass a voter suppression bill after the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision, and this law is the worst of its kind, reminiscent of the Jim Crow era.
Yet just as those who came before us, contemporary leaders are fighting back against the regressive agenda of North Carolina politicians. The statewide Forward Together Moral Movement knows that meaningful change comes from a principled, uncompromising action simultaneously in the streets and in the courts. To that end, we are taking our fight against our state’s massive voter suppression law to court on July 13.
Known as H.B. 589, this sweeping law is a calculated effort by politicians to manipulate the voting rules. With surgical precision, it targets the very measures that African-American and Latino voters have used, over several election cycles, at significantly higher rates than white voters. These measures include early voting, which was cut by a full week under the law. Same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds were eliminated entirely.
The law also requires North Carolinians to present limited forms of photo ID to vote. While the legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory recently rushed an eleventh-hour change to this requirement – purporting to allow voters without the accepted ID to sign a declaration saying they had a “reasonable impediment” preventing them from obtaining one – we know that this provision still places an undue burden on voters, especially voters of color.
The serious attacks on our voting rights, among other rights, let us know that when it comes to racism – especially in the wake of the Charleston massacre – the perpetrator has been caught; but the killer will remain at large until we defeat systemic racism.
At trial, we will hear from experts, legislators and, most importantly, the voters who have been and will be directly harmed by this voter suppression law. This includes citizens who were turned away in 2014 because they were in the wrong precinct, college students whose state university IDs will no longer be eligible for voting, voters who lost the opportunity to cast their ballot because same-day registration was no longer available, and many others.
From the moment this law passed, the Forward Together Moral Movement has been fighting back. Our work is constant. The lives of those affected by H.B. 589 are complex, their stories multifaceted. And on July 13, on the first day of the trial challenging the law in court, we will march together in the streets, just as those before us marched in Selma.
We will stand among some of North Carolina’s fiercest mothers of the civil rights movement, including Ms. Rosanell Eaton, age 94 and Ms. Mary Perry, age 84. We will be joined by Guilford County Commissioner Carolyn Coleman, who has been engaged with voter participation efforts the past 50 years, working across multiple southern states. Now – 50 years after the March on Selma and the subsequent passage of the Voting Rights Act – is the time for bold action again.
Just like major civil rights cases in the past, the implications of the trial in Winston-Salem this July will be stark. The solvency of the Voting Rights Act to stop discriminatory voting practices hangs in the balance. We are again at a crossroads, living through a moment that will surely be captured in history books. On July 13, we will write the next chapter on voting rights.