Sharpton, CBC Join Forces on Voter Suppression

Lauren Victoria Burke | 2/22/2012, 10:48 a.m.

In an effort to spur activism and create a political tipping point on the issue, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are joining forces with National Action Network President Rev. Al Sharpton, against voter suppression. Rev. Sharpton will lead a march from Selma, Ala. tracing the historic steps of Dr. Martin Luther King. He will be joined by several members of the CBC.

The march will begin on Sunday, March 4 in Selma, Ala. and end on March 9 in Montgomery. One goal is to recreate three historic voting rights marches held in 1965. As a result of those efforts, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on August 6, 1965.

"We will stay in the same encampments that Dr. King and the marchers stayed at in 1965," Sharpton said. Alabama's immigration laws will also be a focus of the effort.

"We've made a lot of progress in this country but we are going backwards when people -- based on what they look like -- become suspects," Sharpton said referring to Alabama's immigration laws.

"In this day and age, when states like my own are now promulgating voter ID laws that actually suppress and discourage folks from voting, something needs to be done," said Freshman CBC Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.).

Sharpton said the march is a kickoff to turn the political table against present voter ID laws in 34 states with a "national mobilization" effort. The National Urban League, the NAACP, LaRaza and NOW will also be part of Sharpton's march.

Sharpton views the march and rally effort as a chance to resist laws already passed and galvanize critical mass against them rather than simply accept what is now law. "We don't want to accommodate that until we have to get there," Sharpton said answering a reporter's question on whether his efforts would help voters navigate existing laws.

"We don't want to give anyone the notion that we are trying to accommodate this lie," Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisc.) also told reporters. "The bar should be very high to disenfranchise someone," she added.

Texas, Kansas, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Indiana, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama and Michigan all have voter ID laws.

In addition to the Sharpton march, the Congressional Black Caucus is planning a voter protection tour that would include voter registration and education while providing voter IDs.

The first individual efforts by a CBC member will be a voter symposium hosted by Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.). Clay will be joined by Rev. Al Sharpton for an event on March 16 in his St. Louis district on voter suppression. There will also be voter registration and education at the event. The Missouri legislature is considering a new voter ID law that could pass in time for the November elections.

Sharpton, who hosts Politics Nation on MSNBC and the nationally syndicated radio program Keepin' It Real, will broadcast from Alabama the week of the march. He and many members of Congress believe the voter suppression effort is an attempt to systematically roll back the gains of the Civil Rights movement.