On the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, offers his perspective on what voting means to him.
“During my days as an instructor of Black Studies, I would regularly ask my students if they knew when voting rights for Black (male) voters were first federally protected. Some would be brave enough to answer “1965”, and almost all were surprised to learn that Black voting rights were specifically provided by the 15th amendment in 1870.
“I then proceeded to explain to the students that as post-Civil War Reconstruction ended and as federal troops in the South disappeared, so too did voting rights disappear. The moral of the story: constitutional rights without the power of enforcement are no rights at all.
“This lesson continues to be relevant today. Even as we commemorate the 55thanniversary of the Voting Rights Act, we do so facing the purging of millions of voters from voting lists, the closing of thousands of polling locations, the expansion of photo identification requirements and attacks on voting by mail.
“Moreover, we see efforts to maintain what is perhaps the clearest vestige of slavery and post-Reconstruction era voter suppression—felony disenfranchisement. These abuses have all increased since the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Constitutional rights without the power of enforcement are no rights at all.
“The good news is that the story of the 1965 Voting Rights Act is not over. The triumph of the Voting Rights Act was a triumph of movement. The seeds sown by John Lewis and thousands of others have not yet stopped bearing fruit, and the movement lives on in today’s freedom fighters. We have the power to not only restore the Voting Rights Act, but to make it even better than it was before, complete with stronger consequences, civil as well as criminal, for those who seek to take us backwards.
“At Black Voters Matter, we are committed to ensuring that our rights – constitutional and human – are enforced.”
Cliff Albright is a co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund, an organization dedicated to expanding Black voter engagement and increasing progressive power through movement-building. He also hosts a weekly radio show in Atlanta and has served as an instructor of African-American Studies at several universities.