As the Voting Rights Act turns 50 and in the face of renewed efforts across the country to restrict voting, President Barack Obama called on Congress today to restore the Act to its fullest, saying that we need “to ensure every American has equal access to the polls.”
The President recalled the incident on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in March 1965 that brought into full focus for many Americans just what was at stake and how strongly those being denied the right to vote were willing to fight:
And on one afternoon, two visions of America met on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Those nonviolent marchers, representing the idea that all men and women are created equal and deserved to be treated as such, stared into the faces of those who represented a South that stood for the racial segregation and oppression of Jim Crow.
Roughly 600 people stood on the right side of history that day—armed only with their faith, and the conviction that we could be better. They were willing to sacrifice their own bodies in order to help bring America closer to its ideals of equality and justice for all.
Men and women were bloodied on that bridge. Bones were broken on that bridge. And because of the sacrifices made there, their vision—of a just America, a more fair America, a more equal America—ultimately triumphed. We made ourselves a more perfect union.
And he compared the obstacles black voters faced when trying to vote 50 years ago with new and at times insidious obstacles being thrown up now and even signed into law — as in North Carolina:
Fifty years ago, registering to vote across much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar or bubbles on a bar of soap. And while the Voting Rights Act broke down many of the formal and more ridiculous barriers to voting, today—in 2015—there are still too many barriers to the vote, and too many people trying to erect new barriers to the vote. They’re even written into the code of law in some parts of our country—provisions specifically designed to make it harder for some people to vote.
Laws that roll back early voting. Laws with restrictive photo ID requirements. Laws that lead to improper purges of voter rolls.