On the 155th anniversary of June 19, when news of the declaration of emancipation finally reached enslaved people in Texas, black Americans are still struggling to be treated as equals in that country. Given the disproportionate effects of COVID-19, the continuing unfair police killings, and the continuing economic impact of systemic racism, our community has hit the country with an unprecedented wave of racial justice protests. At this moment when the power of the people is focused on systemic changes, our right to vote and the hearing of our votes at the ballot box is more important than ever.
In 2020, we are still fighting for the 1965 voting rights struggle. Since the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 to pass the Voting Rights Act, a wave of new voter repression laws has made it difficult for poorer communities, immigrant, indigenous, and color communities to vote . This is especially true for southern states like North Carolina and Georgia, where the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow is still with us.
For this reason, people in Georgia waited for hours last Tuesday amid protests to protect black lives from a racist criminal justice system and the global coronavirus pandemic to face broken voting machines. Make no mistake, the system is not broken. It works hard to suppress and silence marginalized voters.
For more than 50 years, Congressman John Lewis has been a supporter of the struggle to reverse the systematic silencing of votes and to guarantee every citizen the right to vote. In a new documentary about his life that will be released on July 3, John Lewis: Good Trouble tells the story of this American hero's determination to see how America keeps its promise to everyone. Congressman Lewis refuses to give up the fight for racial justice, equality and voting rights and embodies what it means to do the right thing, no matter what, or to get into what he calls "good problems".
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As co-chair of the Poor Campaign: A national call to revitalize morale, I am honored to be part of the Good Problems campaign, which celebrates Congressman Lewis's legacy and provides resources to learn more about oppressing voters across the board Experience the country and encourage them to support the right to vote, to participate in civic engagement efforts in their communities, and to support local efforts that empower disenfranchised communities to fully participate in our democracy. As we put together a broad coalition of marginalized Americans to campaign for a bold and transformative moral agenda this election year, it is important that millions of us get into "good trouble" and do the job that Congressman Lewis did so much of him has dedicated life.
We have waited too long to be heard and we have so much to say. Our elected officials must be held accountable for both the unjust murders of black Americans and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the same community. And we have to go beyond historical dividing lines and acknowledge that the same systems kill too many poor white, brown, indigenous and Asian neighbors. Too many people in our public life have felt too comfortable with the death of other people. Now is the time to organize collective action to adopt a moral agenda for the nation. Therefore, tomorrow, June 20th, the Poor Campaign will hold its mass assembly of the poor and the Moral March in Washington.
People directly affected by poverty, systemic racism, ecological devastation, the war economy and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism will face the pain of 140 million poor, low-income Americans. And we will challenge politicians from both parties to win our vote by adopting transformative politics that we know this nation needs.
The right to vote is a crucial part of a strong and just democracy. Unfortunately, this right is attacked with the exception of the Voting Rights Act – especially for the black community. We have to keep pushing that energy and making it choose. That doesn't just mean that your friends and family vote. It also means rolling up your sleeves and working to destroy the systems that silence our fellow Americans. That means finding out about history and context and how you can be part of the solution.
It is easy to look back at history and believe that you were on the right side and had "good problems" when justice demanded it. But history is calling now. What are you going to do to answer his cry?
The Dr. Rev. William J. Barber II is President of the Repair of Violations and Co-Chair of the Poor Campaign: National Call for Moral Revival.