Fifty years ago America again was at the crossroads of decision. Would the nation founded on the principles of liberty and justice for all continue to take a hypocritical stand and look the other way on the topic of voting rights or would the nation live up to its creed that all men are created equal?
On Friday, a passionate group convened at the Phoenix College Bullpitt Auditorium to discuss and begin strategic planning to address attacks to the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
The event, “50 Years and Still Fighting for the Right,” was organized by Congressman Ruben Gallego’s office in conjunction with the congressman’s African American Advisory Council and members of the African-American and Hispanic community leadership.
“An effort is underway by those that want to prevent many in communities of color of exercising their right to vote,” began the congressman. “The effort to totally gut and rescind the pre-clearance in the Voting Rights Act should be of concern for everyone that loves and appreciate democracy. There are people actively trying to dismantle the VRA. A forum is needed to engage in a needed conversation to ensure those changes some want never take place,” concluded Gallego.
Attorney Danny Ortega addressed the legal concern of the attack (Alabama case, Shelby Co.) on the Voting Rights Act by sharing “Section 4, 203, of the VRA which addresses the pre-clearance of several states when it comes to their attempt to re-draw districts or in terms of actual voting procedures.
Ortega said, “When lines were re-drawn to include neighborhoods of color and where polling places were located, there was a great surge in voting. The harassment of people of color by those of the majority who attempted to intimidate and threaten came to an end with the passage of the VRA. At the end of the day political change started with a few, we cannot forget the gains we have made. We must continue to stand on the principles of right.”
Former State Representative and current chair of the African American Advisory Cloves Campbell said, “This is about the quality of life as we know it. The gains of the past came with a great deal of effort. There are those out there saying they want to take back their country. I say, ‘Who are you taking America back from?’ Currently 25 percent of the voting population exercises their right to vote. We need that other 75% to register and actually go to the polls.
“Registering to vote is very important and that is the first step, then we all need the registered to go to the polls and take other folks to the polls as well. Voting makes a difference,” said Campbell, who shared the stories about how he and his siblings worked in his father’s (the late Senator Cloves, Sr.) campaigns.
A dynamic documentary film was shown that featured the profiles of outstanding members of the Phoenix Black and Brown community who worked to ensure the right for citizens to vote. Among those featured were; Dr. Lincoln Ragsdale, former Congressman Ed Pastor, educator and administrator Dr. Morrison Warren, Attorney Hayzel B. Daniel, Delores Huerta and Adam Diaz. Also, a special recognition was presented to the families of the late Dr. George Brooks, Sr., Madge Copeland and Governor Raul Castro.
A call to restore justice was made by Alberto Olivas and members of One Arizona, AZ Black Voter Alliance and Phoenix College. The program also included ‘spoken word’ presented by Tomas and Phonetic Spit.
Harold Branch did a masterful job moving the program along and Debora Colbert, chairwoman of the African American Advisory Council shared timely and poignant words to conclude the excellent and focused program.