Today marks the 54th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), a measure that, until six years ago, was considered to be one of the most powerful civil rights laws in the country.
The document protected voters from all types of discrimination, but in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a pre-clearance section that required states with a history of voter disenfranchisement to get approval from the federal government before changing their voting laws.
In the aftermath of the Shelby v. Holder decision, voter suppression laws cropped up across the country, including in North Carolina, where a voter ID law was ruled so racially discriminatory by a federal court that it was struck down altogether.
To commemorate the anniversary of the VRA as a whole, North Carolinians gathered outside Sen. Thom Tillis’ office to call for a restoration of the pre-clearance part of the law.
“It was a triumph of freedom; it was a triumph of democracy; it was a triumph of all people of all backgrounds of all colors,” said Faisal Khan, of Carolina Peace Center, about the signing of the VRA. “But now we are seeing constantly that our rights, especially for people of color, especially for Black people and brown people, are being suppressed. We’re seeing a shift in voter suppression laws.”
Khan encouraged everyone to get out and vote in the next election to help kick out of office the lawmakers who support voter suppression.
“The essence of the U.S., of democracy lies on voting,” he said. “We the people, all the good people of this country, are going to overcome and take this country back.”
John McNeil also spoke at the event. He was a 2016 Democratic candidate the 2nd U.S. House district in North Carolina, but lost his bid to Republican George Holding.
“Y’all have heard the phrase, ‘you can fool all of the people some of the time but only some of the people all the time,” McNeil said. “What the GOP is doing with their voter suppression is ensuring that only some of the people are allowed to vote. The some of the people that they can fool every single time. They cut this community because that’s not some of the people they can fool; they cut this demographic because that’s not some of the people they can fool; they cut this demographic because they don’t like the way they vote — they want to get rid of them.”
He echoed Khan in calling for more people to get to the polls.
“I think the key is going to be ensuring that Republicans can’t do to us again what they’ve done since about 2010,” he said. “Please get out and work your butts off, and I will do the same.”
Voter Jacalyn Engler told the crowd she wanted fair representation and that voter suppression has resulted in “real damage” to the country and the world.
“We can’t go back, but we must deal with these multifaceted attacks on our democracy,” she said.
In addition to discussing the VRA, the group gathered at the federal building on New Bern Avenue also bowed their heads in prayer to honor the victims from the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
The group expressed disappointment in their elected officials and went around in a circle to share what they would say to Tillis if they were in his office. Here are a few of those sentiments:
“He should have heard my voice by now.”
“I think he’s not doing his job.”
“I wish he would hold a town hall one day.”
“I’m a big fan of democracy and voting.”
“I do believe immigrants get the job done.”
“I believe we need redress.”
“Don’t let the NRA run the USA.”
“I’d like him to come back from recess and pass some common sense gun legislation.”
“Thom Tillis is a racist, a bigot, a white supremacist, and we will vote him out.”
“Why go through all [the trouble of an election] so that you can represent [President Donald Trump] and not us?
“Why are we always having to be here for something — we’re out here every week.”