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North Carolina's Moral Monday movement has been tens of thousands into the streets to protest the repressive policies passed by the GOP government. (Photo: twbuckner/cc/flickr)

This Is Our Selma

In 2006 the U.S. Senate unanimously voted to re-authorize the prized 1964 Voting Rights Act and President George W. Bush signed it. After the first Black President won two elections, five U.S. Supreme Court justices over-ruled 98 senators and gutted the law.

Their ruling, called Shelby, two years ago opened the floodgates, giving the green light to state legislators throughout the South. One North Carolina state senator even declaring that Shelby had removed the "headache" of pre-clearance. The right wing that had seized Mr. Lincoln's party was turned loose to wage war on our sacred right to vote. These extremists filed a 14-page voter suppression bill on April 4, 2013, the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and added 57-pages of anti-democracy laws, with a single purpose: to abridge and shrink the growing electorate of color. Two hours after Gov. McCrory signed it into law, the North Carolina NAACP filed a lawsuit.

Monday, July 13, 2015, is the day of reckoning. Today we go to trial. Tens of thousands are joining us in the streets. This is our Selma.

The NC NAACP together with the Advancement Project, U.S. Department of Justice and other vulnerable voters will enter the Federal Court in Winston-Salem to put into the record evidence that shows these 57-pages are designed to slash democracy in North Carolina, particularly voting rights for people of color.

From cutting same-day registration, early voting by a week, early registration for all high school 16- and 17-year-olds, to requiring new hurdles for obtaining photo IDs which some 300,000 North Carolinian African Americans, Latino and older voters (even those who have voted for years) will have trouble completing. Add to all this, allowing poll watchers from anywhere to intimidate voters of color (we are easy to spot) at the polls.

This is precisely why voter suppression laws are so underhanded and so dangerous to our American democracy. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act protects voters against any law that makes it disproportionately harder for voters of color to participate. This standard is not about whether voter suppression tactics make it impossible to vote. The lawmakers who crafted that 57-page bag of tricks had sense enough to know not to say: "You are black, and therefore we are taking away your right to vote." Even North Carolina's legislators know they must stick to code-words and code-policies today.

When they held their hearings on the bill, scores of witnesses presented evidence that showed the new restrictions would make it "disproportionately harder for voters of color" to participate in the electoral process. Every legislator knew the restrictions would abridge our right to vote. They chose to pass it anyway.

Perhaps they knew their days were numbered if a fair voting system remained in place. Perhaps they were aware that same day registration, early voting, and provisional balloting made it easier for everybody -- particularly poor and working people with children -- to vote. Perhaps they had seen that these alternatives made it possible for working people who could not get off work to vote on Tuesday, voted in the thousands on Saturdays and Sundays. Turnout among North Carolina's black voters skyrocketed, from 41.9 percent in 2000 to 68.5 percent in 2012, when 70 percent of African Americans used early voting. Although African Americans comprise 22 percent of North Carolina voters, they made up 41 percent of voters who used same-day registration. And we cast out-of-precinct ballots at twice the rate of White voters.

Black voters, in particular, need alternative voting measures because, after almost four centuries of exploitation and oppression, many of our sisters and brothers continue to lag behind whites in income, education, access to transportation and residential stability.

North Carolina is the test case for the national anti-democracy forces who desperately seek to constrict the new, multi-cultural, southern electorate. North Carolina may be the state with the worst anti-voter laws on its books today, but these voter suppression tricks have been exported to one southern state after another, with a confederate flag brazenness.

Now, like Selma in 1965, the moral call is central to the gains our courageous elders made toward achieving some justice and equality. Citizens from North Carolina and across the U.S., with attorneys and faith leaders at their side, are in Winston-Salem to wage a pivotal state fight. The outcome in Winston-Salem will impact voting rights across the nation.

It's a sad and shameful truth that 50 years after the bloodshed in Selma -- 50 years after our prized Voting Rights Act -- African Americans have fewer, not more, voting protections today. This is a moral struggle. We call on people of faith and moral character to unite. Once again, we must put on our marching shoes. Once again, we must sound the clarion trumpets in the name of liberty, and justice, and the right to vote, for all.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, and co-chair of the the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. His books include: "The Third Reconstruction: How A Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear" (2016), "Revive Us Again: Vision and Action in Moral Organizing" (2018) and "We Are Called to Be a Movement" (2020). Follow him on Twitter @RevDrBarber.

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