Remarks on April 22, 2021, by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival and president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach
“The threat of free exercise of the ballot by the Negro and white masses is what created a segregated society. This is what happened when the Negro and white masses of the South threatened to unite and build the Great Society — a society where greed and poverty would be done away with. The battle to suppress the vote and the battle to suppress labor rights has been the tactic used by the Southern white aristocracy to hold on to their money and their power.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1968
“In the wake of this moment — an organized coup attempt emboldened by hate, lies, and racism on January 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol — the people of America and this Congress sit at the crossroads of a historic moment calling for us to fight for the soul of our democracy and enact full protections of our sacred right to vote by expanding voting rights and fully restoring the Voting Rights Act, Section 5, preclearance.
“As we come together this morning, less than 100 days since the inauguration of a new American government, at least 361 bills have been introduced in 47 legislatures to suppress the right to vote. In my state of North Carolina, we have labored for over eight years, defending against an all-out attack on voting rights. In North Carolina, the majority that gained power in the North Carolina General Assembly in 2010, they quickly redrew both state legislative districts and U.S. congressional districts in their favor, illegally using race as a primary indicator of voters who opposed their agenda.
“After years of heroic fighting both in the streets and in the courts by the Forward Together Moral Movement, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court would issue a remarkable per curiam decision striking down as a sweeping unconstitutional racial gerrymandering the maps that created an unaccountable legislative supermajority in the statehouse. It was described by one judge as ‘an unconstitutionally constituted legislature.’
“This unconstitutionally constituted legislature was set in place in 2011, and then, in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder by eliminating Section 5.
“In just a matter of hours after the ruling was handed down, the unconstitutionally constituted extremist supermajority of the North Carolina General Assembly announced that because Shelby had rid them of the ‘headache’ of the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance protections, they could now move forward with what we would come to know as the ‘monster voter suppression law’ – a sweeping, omnibus voter suppression bill that erected a slate of stringent, racially discriminatory barriers to the ballot. The law eliminated same-day registration, pre-registration for 16- and 17-year olds, out-of-precinct ballots, the first week of early voting, and instituted one of the nation’s most stringent voter ID laws.
“This ‘monster voter suppression law’ – the worst of its kind in the nation after Shelby – was only possible because preclearance protection was no longer in place.
“After years of organizing and legal battles and even civil disobedience and arrests, the ‘monster voter suppression law’ was eventually struck down as intentionally racially discriminatory. In July 2016, a unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that the law ‘target[ed] African Americans with almost surgical precision’ and ‘impose[d] cures for problems that did not exist.’
“As we sit here today, North Carolina’s legislature is still trying to implement voter suppression laws, and Republican Congresspersons from our state have refused to push for restoration of the Voting Rights Act — today marks for 2,858 days or seven years, nine months and 28 days. We cannot continue this assault on the right to vote.
“We are living in a time when voters of color hold increased potential for political power — more than 30 percent of America’s eligible voters. We are also living in a time when America is home to more than 140 million poor and low-income people: over 43.5 percent of the population in the richest country in the world.
“This includes 39 million children, 74.2 million women, 60.4% or 26 million Black people and over 66 million white people. Increasing the harm on these 140 million individuals and people of color in this nation comes whenever the right to vote is restricted or undermined.
“As Dr. King said, it is used as a tool whenever there is the threat for Black and white — we might say today brown, Asian and Indigenous — to come together and vote in a way that transforms our political power and economic power in this country.
“We must pass and fully restore and expand the Voting Rights Act, Section 5 preclearance, and we must do it now.”