Commentary: The Struggle is Not Over: Reflections on The 40th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act By BARBARA LEE

Tuesday August 09, 2005

Saturday Aug. 6 marked the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Passed by Congress and signed by President Johnson, it provides voter protections against actions taken by states to limit participation in the electoral process, actions most often targeted toward Blacks, Latinos and low income citizens. 

Most Americans are unaware that the right to vote is not explicitly stated in the U.S. Constitution, but is a state right subject to differing laws and regulations. This is problematic and accounts for various abuses. Voting rights have been denied by requirements of property ownership, poll taxes, and literacy test. Recently, in our past two national elections we have seen tremendous voting abuses in Ohio and Florida. 

Let us demand that the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act are re-authorized and extended permanently. We must recommit ourselves today to guaranteeing voting rights for all Americans; we must affirm to our nation and the world that every vote counts; we must take it upon ourselves to ensure that every vote will be counted; and we must reclaim our democracy! 

The nation has come a long way since the days of Jim Crow laws and poll taxes, but there’s still much work to do. The last two elections—one election and one selection—made it painfully clear that we can not stop until we reclaim our democracy. The stakes are too high to be complacent. 

More than 1,800 of our troops and some 25,000 Iraqi civilians have died in an unnecessary and immoral war in Iraq. Our nation was lied to in order to justify this invasion, and now a country that had no ties to Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda is a training ground for terrorists. 

Over $200 billion dollars have been spent on the Iraq conflict and there’s no end in sight. These funds should be invested in improving our schools, guaranteeing Social Security and making healthcare accessible to all who need it.  

I introduced a congressional bill to prevent the establishment of permanent bases in Iraq. This bill now has 42 co-sponsors including members from the Congressional Progressive, Congressional Black, Congressional Hispanic and Congressional Asian and Pacific American Caucuses. Our goal is to make it perfectly clear that there will be no permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq! Open-ended military presence will only fuel the insurgency and increase the vulnerability of our troops. 

This war continues to cost us our sons and daughters, our standing in the world community and it is jeopardizing our national security. This war is not about spreading democracy. The real lesson of this war is that we must be relentless in reclaiming our democracy. 

The current co-sponsors of this bill and the growing number of members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian and Pacific American Caucus are a testament to the powerful impact of the Voting Rights Act. 

Today, there are 81 members of Congress of African American, Latino, Asian and Native American descent. These Representatives, and many of our progressives would have never been elected without the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Let’s honor and never forget the many Americans who sacrificed and gave their lives so others could enjoy the basic right to vote. 

Let’s join the campaign to ensure the Voting Rights Act is reauthorized and extended permanently for all Americans and let’s continue the struggle to reclaim our democracy. 


Congresswomen Barbara Lee represents California’s District 9.