Honor the Civil Rights Act by Protecting the Right to Vote

John Lewis addresses the 1963 March on Washington speaking as President of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Today civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis, Freedom Rider, organizer of the Nashville sit-ins, and leader of the March on Selma for voting rights calls on all Americans to honor the anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by protecting the right to vote:

“I can still vividly recall the march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, the sit-ins in Nashville, and the boycotts in Birmingham that were all part of the struggle to end discrimination and racial inequality during the civil rights movement. Thousands of Americans, of all races and backgrounds, came together to make our country a more perfect union. And those efforts culminated in the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act 48 years ago.

“It’s important to reflect on how far we have come, but we must also remember how many barriers remain for the simple right of trying to cast a ballot. Yes, we’ve moved on from the days when you could be beaten for trying to drink from a water fountain or sit at the front of the bus. But efforts to limit access to the ballot box still persist.

“Our democracy is strongest when more Americans have a say in their government—not fewer. Everybody, regardless of race or political party, should be able to have their voices heard and their votes counted, because that is what is at the heart of being an American.

“Unfortunately, in several states across the country, legislatures and governors are passing laws that make it harder for eligible voters to register and vote. Whether it’s shortening early voting periods, taking away Election Day registration or purging voters from the rolls, this systematic effort to restrict access to the polls cannot be denied. And we shouldn’t be playing politics with something as important and fundamental to who we are as a country.

“From the day he launched his campaign on that cold day in Springfield, Illinois, more than 5 years ago, President Obama has campaigned and governed on a core principle of inclusiveness, bringing more people into the political process. That’s the true spirit of our elections and our country. And that is the idea behind gottavote.org, the bilingual, innovative new resource to help Americans understand their voting rights and how to exercise those fundamental rights in their own state.

“We have never solved anything in this country through less democracy, and we certainly won’t now. That is what we fought for more than four decades ago. On the 48th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, it is critical that we remember that historic struggle and rededicate ourselves to finishing that fight by continuing to defend the right to vote.”

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