WASHINGTON -- On March 7, 1965, some 600 non-violent protestors led by John Lewis, then chair of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) walked two-by-two in silent protest across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Their intention was to march all the way to the state capital in Montgomery to highlight the need for voting rights protection in Alabama.
On that bridge, they were beaten in a bloody confrontation later named Bloody Sunday. Outcry against the event eventually led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which opened up voting access for African Americans, language minorities, seniors, the disabled, Latino, Asian and Native Americans who all experienced limited access to the polls. Bi-annually, Rep. John Lewis leads a congressional pilgrimage to Alabama managed by The Faith and Politics Institute to immerse legislators in the history of contemporary struggle around the right to vote in America. On this anniversary, Rep. Lewis made this statement:
"Forty-seven years ago, people had to pass a so-called literacy test, pay a poll tax, even count the number of bubbles in a jar of soap so they could register to vote. The Voting Rights Act ended those abuses, but it did not end attempts to suppress access to the ballot box today. On this anniversary, we cannot rest. We must honor those who gave their lives for the right to vote in this country by getting informed and getting involved.
"Right now there are only six states in America which have no voter ID requirement and no pending voter ID legislation. Forces are gathering to make it more difficult for as many as 21 million Americans who have no government -issued ID and 5 million registered voters to cast a vote in this election.
"They have launched litigation aimed at the U.S. Supreme Court with hopes to gut section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires pre-clearance of voting changes in states with a history of discrimination by the Justice Department to stop voter suppression before it becomes law. Democracy is not a state. It is an act. It requires the continued vigilance of us all to ensure that we continue to create an ever more fair, more free democracy.
" Get up-to-date on the voting requirements in your state. Mobilize to take action to make sure everyone who is eligible to vote has the ID required so they can vote without restriction on Election Day. And join in the struggle to combat every attempt to suppress the vote in your area."