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Lowery Calls for Voting Rights Activism

Atlanta Icon Pushes Back Against Supreme Court Decision

By A. Scott Walton Executive Editor | 8/14/2013, 6:23 p.m.
Rev. Dr. Lowery

More than 100 concerned citizens, politicians and community leaders braved the threat of thunderclouds hovering over the Auburn Avenue courtyard outside Ebenezer Baptist Church Wednesday afternoon to demand expansion of their voting rights, rather than contraction.

The “Voting Rights Project” rally was staged by Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams in conjunction with the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, American Values First. The object was to inform the public that an initiative is being launched across all 50 states of the U.S. to force lawmakers to expand the pool of eligible voters instead of draining it.

State and federal lawmakers came from as far as Iowa, Florida and Nevada to support the announcement of Georgia’s “Voting Rights Project” campaign. The crowd appeared to be equally-mixed in terms of race, and spanned in ages from teens to the elderly.

The Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, affectionately known as the “Dean of the Civil Rights Movement” served as the rally’s keynote speaker. Even though Lowery addressed the crowd from his wheelchair, he offered a testimonial that was alternately sermonic, humorous, poignant and provocative and inspired several standing ovations.

Citing this summer’s Supreme Court decision that gutted the protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Lowery declared: “We have come too far, marched too long, wept too bitterly and suffered too much brutality to turn back now.”

“We’ve got to get busy,” the octogenarian minister and Medal of Freedom recipient added. “We’ve got to become activists. We can’t wait for somebody to do it for us. We’ve got to step up and demand justice for ourselves.”

In his address – laced with references to the slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin, Biblical text and the folly of racial discrimination – Lowery maintained that White conservatives are seeking to roll back peoples’ access to voting booths due to their greed (for money and power) and prejudices.

“There must be something mighty important about that right to vote,” he barked, “because they’re spending a whole lot of precious time and money trying to take it away.”

When Iowa State Senatore Mike Gronstal rose to the podium following Lowery’s speech, he asserted that the “Voting Rights Project” has dual strategies to compel legislators to open up access to the polls.

“It’s a two-pronged effort,” Gronstal said. “It’s not just about stopping bad laws that suppress the vote. It’s about passing new laws that help more citizens exercise their right to vote.”

He reminded the crowd that current efforts to restrict voter eligibility in more than 30 states across the country don’t affect racial minorities alone.

“They affect senior citizens, and students and people who just don’t happen to have drivers licenses as well,” Gronstal said.

To learn more about the “Voting Rights Project”, visit http://www.votingrightsproject.org/.