The August 2nd issue of The New York Times Magazine featured a cover story, written by Jim Rutenburg, about efforts to dismantle the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The article received a heavy volume of responses. However, one reply in particular, stood out, because it was written by the President of the United States.
In his response, President Obama made a powerful case for restoring the protections contained in the Voting Rights Act, that was signed into law half a century ago. The President wrote:
The Voting Rights Act put an end to literacy tests and other forms of discrimination, helping to close the gap between our promise that all of us are created equal and our long history of denying some of us the right to vote. The impact was immediate, and profound — the percentage of African-Americans registered to vote skyrocketed in the years after the Voting Rights Act was passed.
But as Rutenberg chronicles, from the moment the ink was dry on the Voting Rights Act, there has been a concentrated effort to undermine this historic law and turn back the clock on its progress. His article puts the recent push to restrict Americans’ voting rights in its proper context. These efforts are not a sign that we have moved past the shameful history that led to the Voting Rights Act. Too often, they are rooted in that history. They remind us that progress does not come easy, but that it must be vigorously defended and built upon for ourselves and future generations.
The president continued by invoking his own personal journey, adding:
I am where I am today only because men and women like Rosanell Eaton refused to accept anything less than a full measure of equality. Their efforts made our country a better place. It is now up to us to continue those efforts. Congress must restore the Voting Rights Act. Our state leaders and legislatures must make it easier — not harder — for more Americans to have their voices heard. Above all, we must exercise our right as citizens to vote, for the truth is that too often we disenfranchise ourselves.
With his characteristic eloquence, the president not only called out Republicans for making it harder to vote, but he also issued a plea to members of his own party who choose not to vote to exercise their right to vote whenever possible.
President Obama gets it on every level. Congress and the state legislatures need to stop voter suppression efforts designed to disenfranchise voters. In addition, Americans need to make an effort to cast their ballots and to hurdle any barriers that Republicans erect to stand in the way of voters exercising their rights.
The Voting Rights Act became a law 50 years ago, but unfortunately the battle to uphold the spirit and the letter of that law rages on today. Thankfully, President Obama has placed himself in the middle of the current fight, and he has raised his voice in defense of creating a more perfect union, where the right to vote is not infringed upon.