The New Voting Rights Movement

As we approach the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer 1964, a national movement is underway to protect the ability of every American to exercise his or her right to vote. You’d think by now this would be a non-issue, but recent events—including the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision last summer striking down a key piece of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965—make this fight all too timely.

Earlier this month, the campaign to pass legislation to remedy the Court’s decision kicked off in Washington, D.C. Civil rights and faith community leaders, advocates, and public policy experts from across the country gathered at a symposium organized by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR) to strategize and educate one another on this important issue. I was honored to take part in this historic gathering and to represent Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, along with our partner The Andrew Goodman Foundation.

Before we dove into the substance of the issues, the broad spectrum of LCCHR partner organizations came together the evening of February 6 to mark our progress thus far, appreciate the bipartisan congressional champions who have gotten us here and be inspired by living legends. I felt privileged to spend much of the evening talking with The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s President David Goodman (brother of Andrew Goodman) and other remarkable advocates who were part of Freedom Summer, including Heather Booth. The legacy of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner was on the forefronts of minds and discussions. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a civil rights leader and American legend, was the keynote speaker that evening. He issued a stirring call to action, and made sure everyone knew who those three young men were in the process.

As Rep. Lewis talked us through his experience on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. on Bloody Sunday, it was as if we had all been transported, by his unmistakable ability to captivate and transform an audience, to another time and place. When he described coming to the highest point of the bridge on the march for voting rights, where down below they saw a sea of Alabama State Troopers, it was as if we too could see the snarling dogs and hear the bullhorn’s blast. And as he described how he carefully packed his backpack that morning to be prepared for what the day was likely to have in store—taking a moment to add levity to the somber tale by joking that he was wearing backpacks before they were cool—it was as if we were there with John Lewis the young trailblazer, rather than in the present with the statesman of today.

In the Jewish community, nearly all of us know someone or know of someone in our community who has been in or is still in this fight—whether it be someone who registered people to vote in the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s or someone who uses their law degree today to serve as an election protection volunteer every election day. This is personal. And each of us has the ability to make a difference.

And therein lies the true power of the new voting rights movement: We who fight to protect voting rights today are not merely standing on the shoulders of those who fought 50 years ago for this cause—we are standing with those trailblazers, still fighting today, and our continued commitment honors the memory of those whose lives were taken in this fight.

About the author: Arielle Gingold is the Associate Director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action. Arielle represents the organization on Capitol Hill, to the Administration and in diverse coalitions on issues ranging from voting rights to immigration reform to promoting LGBT equality. She lives in Washington, D.C.