By Paul R. Pace, News staff
In 1965 people gave their lives for the right to vote, said Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the National NAACP.
“We need to protect the right to vote in 2015,” Brooks told a cheering crowd outside the nation’s capital on Sept. 16.
The event marked a final rally and advocacy day for America’s Journey for Justice, a 1,000-mile march sponsored by the NAACP. Marchers traveled from Selma, Ala., to Washington starting in August, with dozens of rallies hosted along the way. Participants campaigned for voting rights, a fair criminal justice system, a living wage and equitable public education.
Brooks reminded the participants in Washington that the original Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted “by the blood, sweat and tears” of those who marched for voting rights in Selma 50 years before.
The law forced states with historically repressive voting regulations to seek federal approval before changing their voting rules.
In 2013, however, the U.S. Supreme Court removed that provision of the Voting Rights Act, which allows states to pass voting laws without federal oversight, the NAACP said.
“We’re here 50 years later after Selma with that law in tatters,” Brooks said, “gutted by a misguided decision.”
NASW urged members and others to join in support of the march as well as the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, which seeks to reinstate federal voting protections similar to the original law.
NASW member Dana Courtney joined other members of her NAACP chapter in Alamance County, N.C., to a meet up with the marchers twice in her home state. They also traveled by bus to join the advocacy day and rally in Washington.
Courtney said participating in the march is “what social workers are all about.”
“If people can’t vote and have a voice in this democracy of ours, what do we have?” she said.
Courtney said she told her friends who could not make it to Washington that “we’re here not just for ourselves but also for those who cannot come and for those who will come after us.”
The advocacy day rally brought out more than a dozen federal lawmakers as well, including U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who said as a teenager he witnessed on television those fighting for voting rights in the 1960s.
“To see this on television was something foreign to us,” he said. “My parents and grandparents said it is a sin blocking people from voting because of the color of their skin.”
“Anybody who would perpetuate having people blocked from voting do not deserve to stand here and take the oath of office and defend our constitution,” he added. “Everybody is entitled to vote.”
From the November 2015 NASW News. NASW members can read the full story here.