tv Voting Rights Then and Now CSPAN August 30, 2015 2:15pm-3:44pm EDT
the voting rights act and these 70th anniversary of the legal defense fund. i position them as two cornerstones of our democracy. one is obviously a law that helped transform this country and provide the legal protections that allows this democracy to evolve and what it is today -- still in progress, but certainly better than it was. but with any law, you need enforcers. with any law, you need those who will protect that law, will and force it, will allow to live out i know thes and legal defense fund has spent all of its days working toward that goal and many, many others. i'm particularly proud to represent the legal defense fund tonight and be part of this wonderful collaboration with these smithsonian. it's truly an historic moment reasons,eat many
including the beautiful witnessing of the structure that is across the way that will house the history of the people in this country who have done so much to bring its truth to reality. in this country who have done so much to bring its truths to reality. so many of you may know the legal defense fund for its masterminding and being the architects of brown versus board of education, but our legacy in the area of voting rights is equally powerful. for decades we have worked to enforce and expand the protections under the voting rights act which itself was enacted to enforce the 14th and 15th amendments. we've done that for well over five decades. we played a vital role in the pivotal events that led to the
passage of the voting rights act by representing the marchers. we were the legal team that worked with the marchers that worked with the late dr. martin luther king in not only mapping out the logistics of the march but even the root of the march, and we have the historic order that allowed the march to go forward, posted on our website, and in the very materials that we handed out today. if you don't know about the history of selma, if you don't know about that birthplace of democracy, please take a moment and look at the materials that we've handed out. the booklet called selma. it gives you a glimpse into the history, a glimpse into some of the here wroes of the struggle to enact the voting rights act and to set this democracy in motion. we're proud to have participated in each of the four reauthorizations of the voting rights act. for those of you who know something about it, you know
that all the provisions weren't permanent when it was passed in 1965, and, therefore, we had to go in front of congress along with other civil rights allies and against those who department want to see our democracy progress as it has. we defended those provisions and we advocated for their longevity, and we were part of that struggle for four different reauthorizations, including the most recent one in 2006. we have litigated countless cases in the south and many of the states that mr. ellis mentioned and others and in the north. there certainly has been racial discrimination and voting beyond the south, and we have been a large part of that struggle. we are argued in two supreme court cases. the most recent cases northwestern -- northwest municipal utility district number one versus holder, and then the shelby county case, which we'll be talking a lot more about today. we litigated those cases, defending the constitutionality
of one of the most powerful positions of the voting rights act, section five. it doesn't account for all the work that we did in working with the department of justice in the preclearance progress that allows the federal government intervene and preclear to judge whether any law that's about to be enacted may have a discriminatory impact on racial minorities. that's a provision that is now defunct because of the shelby county case, and it's one that we're hoping to resurrect and even make morrow bust.
ever since it's passed we participated and represented plaintiffs. plaintiff interveners. these are just the cases that were not settled out of court in some other way. needless to say we've had a robust impact on the voting rights acts, enforcements, and the transformative change as it's able to instigate in this country. we do this work because it's essential to our democracy. dwoe this work because we believe in the promise of empowering voters, empowering individuals to contribute to decision making, to the formation of law and policy. and so we are delighted to be part of the evening with the smithsonian and are very grateful for this partnership
and collaboration. i especially want to thank the museum's leadership, sheryl johnson, rex ellis -- tasha coleman and -- mcginnis. we also thank the president lonnie bunch, and none of this could have happened without the instrumental input of deirdre cross, who really was the visionary behind this who is the one who instigated this partnership that we formed around this event and that i hope will be lasting. she's just been phenomenal. i also want to thank the many staff of the legal defense fund, and rex, you name them all for me. i appreciate you doing that. if you want to stand and be noticed for your work. we are all foot shoulders in this fight for democracy and justice. i want to show you some of this
swrrgs of civil rights lawyers and what they're doing. >> thank you. one of the incredible outgrowths of having such an impact on the voting rights act and its enforcement is that we have helped to vult indicate and grow a voting rights bar, a bevy of attorneys who are experts in election law and the voting rights act and protecting voter rights, and those individuals have worked in the legal defense fund. some have gone into governments and gone on to academia. we have an incredible roster of folks who have worked so hard and understand what it takes to maintain and advance a democracy, and we are proud to have been part of growing that group of individuals and growing
beyond our offices. we have such a stellar line-up for you. i can't she of a better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary than with the panel that we have put together to have this robust engaging, provocative testimonial discussion about the voting rights act. i am going to introduce you to our illustrious panel. as i say your name, i invite you to come to the stage. i first introduced ari berman. ari is a contributing writer at "the nation." he is also the author of a new book that is coming out on august 4th and something i'm sure we're going to hear about tonight. it's entitled "give us the ballot, the modern struggle for voting rights in america." welcome, ari berman. [ applause ] the next panelist i would like to introduce is spencer crew. professor crew is a professor of
heft at george mason university. he is also an alum of the national museum of american history, and i want to welcome him to the panel to provide his historical insight. he is also the curator of an exhibit here, and i don't want to get the name wrong of the exhibit. defining freedom, defending freedom, the era of segregation. welcome, professor crew. [ applause ] would i next like to welcome alabama state senator henry hank sanders who has been serving the great state of alabama for over 30 years. among his many, many, many accomplishments is something that it's something i know the
graciously accepted donna brazil. so donna brazil is a renowned analyst and political strategist and author and cnn commentator and beltway insider, and we are thrilled to have her moderate this discussion. thank you so much for enjoying -- for coming here to help you enjoy the night. [ applause ] >> thank you so much. thank you for your leadership. i took away the chair so you can spread your wings. first of all, this is the book that mr. berman has written due out on august 4th. i have an advanced copy. he will autography it woosh we'll give it to the museum.
how is that? that's how you make history. it was called the crown jewel of the civil rights movement. wret, it's been under attack. >> we have helped to eradicate many barriers. perhaps we should start by telling a little bit more of its history, and then i have some really good questions for the panelists, and i'm going to open up the mike to many of you. >> absolutely. i mean, we heard a lot about the voting rights act, but i thought you could expound. there's a historian this the party. the group. not the party. this is not a party. not yet. not yet. good lord. i'm from new orleans. there's always a party.
alabama in the house and louisiana has to be here and mississippi is not far behind. all right. >> i thought maybe i should talk a little bit about that background that led up to the work they did starting back in 1940. >> thank you. >> the idea that, in fact, we talk about the exhibition, and it looks at the reconstruction, and i think that the background to the work that the fund has had to do after that period after the civil war, for the passage of 14th and 15th amendment and the effort thereafter to try to negate it in different kinds of ways. i think the most important changes that took place during that period was that when they first tried to investigate how to apply the 15th amendment, what the supreme court responded back to say was that while you couldn't discriminate against somebody because of race or because of previous serve tud, if you found another device that didn't touch on those
descriptors, then you could, in fact, affect the voting rights law. you have a series of new laws, the idea that you had to pay in order to have the right to vote, and think of yourself as a sharecropper in the south during this period, and have you to choose between do i pay to vote or feed my family? the choice is you feed your family. i think what the states understood is this is a way of doing it. under this there was other devices that say it couldn't book because of your color, but saying you couldn't vote. along with it were things like the test that means you had to read a united states constitution or state constitution or something to the satisfaction of the registrar of
that state. and strangely enough, and i'm sure you all could figure this out, if you had a ph.d. if you were an african-american you couldn't read to the standards that were necessary. if you had a different kind of background you could. again, it was a way of stopping people from voting without saying because you're african-american, you couldn't vote. probably the most interesting device -- if your grandfather. again, you couldn't vote going fourth -- it wasn't a slave you
could vote thereafter. you had a series of vices put into place. -- other important changes took place, which i think is a harbenger is the creation of the democratic primaries. >> because they were privately run activities they could, in fact, exclude african-americans from participating in those primaries. since 1940 in the naacp argued with the state of texas that, in fact, this goes against the 15th amendment that you have from those early steps worth attacking this effort to discriminate against african-americans without saying
their name, but very directly pointing in the direction toward them. you think if you want to talk about the history of the defense fund, you have to think about what and the struggles that were before them, and the hard work and legal efforts that had to go into the beginning to find ways of overturning these activities. the other thing that was important to have happen is the change a bit in the climate and the nation. you needed to have a supreme court that was willing to begin to look at things slightly differently and beotology do it for years and years prior to that. at least beginning to consider the fact that african-americans were citizens that had the right to vote. i think these changes are important shifts occurring in the atmosphere of the nation that are pushed along by the efforts of the defense fund and the legal community. constantly saying this is not
right. it was said earlier that you talk about democracy, but you don't have a real democracy because so much of your citizenship has been excluded for a hands to participate. >> i'm going to follow-up with dr. crew in a moment on the historical significance. unless congress acts this year, the united states could be facing its first presidential election in 2016 without the full protection of section four or section five on the voting rights act so, what should voting rights advocates be doing now to prepare for this, and how can we work to insure that the impact does not have a more detrimental impact on minority voting strength in the next election? >> thank you so much for that question, and thank you for that wonderful history. i should just ask if there are people who are standing there, there are seats here in the front row. please come on down and sit in the front row. we're not going to use those seats. come on. you are quite right that the
supreme court's decision in the shelby county case, which is decided in 2013 really has changed the way in which probably everyone in this room has become accustomed to the protections of the voting rights act for 48 years, and with the stroke of a pen, the supreme court changed that, and when they changed it in the opinion by the chief justice, john roberts, they changed it on his presumption, and the presumption of the four other justices who joined him on the presumption that, you know, things have changed so much in this country. changed so much from the history that was just described that we no longer need the protection of the voting rights act and the core protection of the voting rights act that was at issue was this preclearance provision, this provision that requires -- that certain jurisdictions in the country preclear any voting changes that they wish to make with the federal authority either the attorney general of the united states or a federal
judge before they enact those changes. those changes might be changing how you elect judges. it might be moving polling places. it might be restrictions on early voting. it might be changing voter id laws. all of those things had been attempted in the past, but they had to be precleared by the justice department. by the way, many had been preleader. many forms of voter id were, in fact, precleared by the justice department. after the shelby county decision, we saw a real sea change happen. i northeast will forget the state of florida saying after its decision we're free and clear now. it was like it was like a free for all. i'm sure you have all see a wave of new voter suppression laws that have taken place all over the country. not only in the jurisdictions
that were covered by the preclearance provision, but all over the country. you talked about -- it was not really about big politics. it was about the way power is wielded all over the country, particularly in the south. galveston, case in texas to give black voters the -- i litigated that in 1991. we talk about voter suppression,
we are not just talking about who was going to be the president. it's important to emphasize if you do not live in these communities, you forget it is the water district and the town council and the school board and -- iudicial district always remember alabama. every county commissioner had the power of roads and ditches and their county district and probably to you and me does not sound like power we want to control roads and ditches, but you know, that controls where the new supermarket ends up, right? and where the infrastructure happens in your community. one of the important things to recognize, while we are focused on the macro, looking at the presidential election and the toate elections, we have recognize this is the way communities of power organize, especially in the lives of
african-americans and latinos. they have had elections without the protection of the voting rights act and that is a threat to our democracy. this is not a gathering storm. this is a storm we are in the middle off and it is our obligation to remember the history that was described. a federal judge in texas just last november -- we challenged the voter id law. judge called the new voter id law, she called it just another step in the unbroken line of racial discrimination in voting in the state of texas. texas has not had redistricting since the voting rights act was passed without a finding that it was created on discrimination. yes, the federal judge in texas saying the voter id law following the shelby decision was created with the purpose of discriminating against lacked
and latino voters. that is not a sound bite. that is not a civil rights advocate. that is a judge making a ruling in a 1993 judicial decision. we have a democracy problem in this country. country. we have a democracy problem in this country. it is rooted in the history that was described and that history has only been when you hear why is it black people still couldn't vote? what happened? it's because there was always this effort. [ applause ]
>> we're getting off our behind parts. you don't just get it, and you just have it forever, and you sit back and smoke a cigarette. no. it's never been more required than in the area of voters because it doesn't implicate politics and the stakes are so high, but when you in a hucht has been unbroken, and the interruptions that we have been able to make has been through our litigation in which we have fought back and said no, america has to be better than that, and we've been able to move ourselves closer to democracy. that's precisely what's required today.
really gives us the ballot, and it's one of the greatest sermons i think dr. king ever gave. i'm getting old, but i still know my numbers. all right. it's how the opposition to voting rights has grown over the wreerz and how it spread and not just for litigation, but also legislation, and are you in a unique position. you're in the minority in the alabama senate. the first african-american from the legislature from the black belt for a senator, and i got that from chris brown who is just a recent graduate from notre dame. i brought him here. all of you describe that to the voting rights act, because i have some more questions on some history, but i want to get to the opposition.
>> i want to pay homage to a legal defense fund. out of harvard law school we became cooperating attorneys with the legal defense fund. before that in fact, when they were crossing the bridge on bloody sunday he was a cooperating attorney back in the 1960s, and he was over there in the phone book calling into the legal defense fund about what was happening at that time. i really want to pay homage to you for that 75 year history. we really thought we could leave after five years, and she really wanted to live in new york.
i didn't want to live in new york. in any event, it wasn't long before after we got there we realized that the passage of the voting rights act was just the beginning. there was a vicious fight on every front starting in 1966. i went to loudoun county, which was 75%, 80% black, and i was joining in to -- i went down there to help what they call a black panther party. it was really called a loudoun county freedom organization, but they had a black panther symbol because the democratic party had a white rooster as its symbol. in 75% or 80% black county we were not able to elect a single person in 1966, and it just kept
going. when we came in 1971 and continued that struggle, in all of those black counties around the west alabama black belt with the exception of green county, we were not able to elect a majority on the county commission, the board of education, county-wide positions until 1982. it took from 1965 to 1982 for candidates that were 75%, 08% black because there were so many other ways to be able to stop that. they didn't even have to change the law because they controlled all of the power centers and was able to be able to do that. it's been a continuous struggle all the time. i just want to jump back a moment and say right now we are talking about whether or not we got a congress that probably
would not pass this and probably would not pass that. in 1965 we had a congress that the president of the wraits said wouldn't pass. all the leaders said wouldn't pass anything. then there were people who were determined to go ahead. they didn't wait to decide whether to fight. they were fighting in spite of the odds. we'll have to fight now in spite of the odds. just to paint a little picture. one side literally had everything. they had all of the guns and gunmen. all of the laws and lawmen. all the businesses and the jobs. they literally had everything, and the other side had virtually nothing, but they took marching feed, they took singing songs, and they took praying prayer and still was able to get to great victory. i simply say that to say that it
has been a continuous fight ever since the 15th amendment was passed. it's been a continuous fight. at the heart of this is white supremacy. i don't want the moderator to stop me. >> you're from alabama. keep going. >> slavery was an economic institution, but where it held it all together was white supremacy. even after that form of white slavery ended, white supremacy continued, and that is why we were fighting so hard -- that is why the u.s. supreme court would end up even at this particular point setting aside smashing
section 4b was deactivated section five unless we talk about slavery, unless we talk about white supremacy, we can still have this problem. we have to go for the roots of it, and he'll come back later. >> thank you. >> a little bit of history. baldwin county. alabama. that's where they found the gumbo. the opposition, once upon a time bipartisan support led by many republicans. today we have a new act that has been introduced in congress. what are the chances of the voting improvement act, the voting advancement act being passed in this congress? >> what do you think? >> this congress can barely name a post office. >> that's true. >> i wanted to thank you, donna, for the very kind plug of my book, and i want to thank l.d.f.
who i have learned so much covering voting rights and the smithsonian for hosting it. you are right. the voting rights act has been a bipartisan piece of legislation from its inception. not just the passage of it in 1965, but it was reauthorized four times, and i think a lot of people don't realize that. those four reauthorizations were all signed by republican presidents, and whereas it was passed over by republicans in congress. was the bush administration -- of nearly 50 years, and we've reached a breaking point in the last few years where we're in a situation where less than a decade ago the voting rights act was reauthorized. 98-0 in the senate. 390-33 in the house. now we can't even get a hearing on a bill to restore the voting rights act. what i think has changed so dramatically, if i can just be blunt, was the election of
barack obama, and i think that shattered the bipartisan consensus, and i think a lot of people thought after the election of barack obama the first black president that we weren't done were done, we had been to the mountaintop. i'm serious. and people thought that obama's election, which in many cases was the cli maximum of the voting rights act meant that we didn't need the voting rights act anymore. a lot of people even said at that time this ended the debate over voting rights. the election of barack obama didn't end the debate over voting rights. it created a new debate and what happened is we heard all this talk of a new american electorate. that women, hispanics, of afrz, this was the coalition of the ascended and it was destined, and this was the future of american politics. we assumed that the losing party would respond by trying to cultivate the votes of that new american electorate. not make it harder for them to vote.
what happened i started covering voting rights after all these flip from blue to red. we see all across the country in florida, in ohio, in north carolina, in texas, all these -- they start introducing new measures to make it harder to vote. i found this to be really shocking. maybe i was naive. maybe i thought we were over this point. the idea that in 2011 following the election of the first black president that we would be moving backwards in such a swift way. i think a lot of republicans saw the voting rights act blocking things like voter id laws in texas and decided they wanted to challenge it because they wanted those new laws to go through. so i think there still is bipartisan support in congress for the voting rights act. you still have republicans like jim sensen arebrenner, the former chairman of the house subcommittee, who are talking about the need to restore the vra.
>> thank you. dr. crew, former attorney general eric holder called the fight for voting rights in his future. the civil rights challenge of our time. from a historical perspective, do you agree? >> i do. we sometimes think about it directly in terms of elected officials, but i think it also cascades downward in terms of i think one of the reasons they want to stop people from voting because if you don't vote, as a politician, you don't have to pay attention to those voices. therefore, you don't have to worry about their concerns. if you don't vote, it's hard to register to be on the jury to make judgments. all the things that are connected with the right to vote and being registered to vote
that affects the other aspects of our role as citizens, and as long as people are taking steps to prevent us from having those rights, it means we're blocked out of a wide variety of other kinds of access to rights of citizenship. as you talk about the impact on a state and lower level, i think you're right. if you look historically at what happens is that in virginia when they put in place lit are as where i laws and pole taxes, he think from 1880s from several thousand at least black voters in the state, there were less than 500 black voters registered in the state. it's those kind of steps that ebbing clued us from the whole other rights that come with citizenship that we have to be aware of and why the voting rights are such a significant and important issue for us to -- >> thank you. recently we've seen lawsuits
filed in ohio, virginia, wisconsin along with a lawsuit that is active now. we have all the press releases that i received on a nightly basis that i can tweet. continuing suit in north carolina. my question is what are we seeing from these suits? what do they mean moving forward? >> of course, the supreme court's decision in 2013 did not kill the voting rights act. there are many other section that is remain vital. one of them is section two, and we continued to file suits and litigate under section two of the voting rights act. the case that we brought challenging texas's voter id law and also under the constitution of the united states and we're all, of course, watching the trial unfold in north carolina.
with use the courts and believe in the rule of law. we also recognize that litigation can't do everything. we're talking about moving polling places in small towns all over the country, and now without the sections 53 clearance we often can't even learn about the changes that are happening. one thing you can do if you want to stay informed, can you go on our website www.naacp.naf.org.
on our website we've kept a running list of all of the voting changes that have happened in communities all over this country since the supreme court did its damage so people can see where these communities are, and a number of organizations have been litigating, but as i said, litigation is imperfect. litigation also takes time so it can be a couple of years. litigation also costs money. it's free if you hired the legal defense fund, but we have to raise the money to keep our organization going. it's not possible to complete this just imaging that you are going to file lawsuits. the lawsuits are important because they hold the line on the law, because i really do believe that one of the ways that we've been successful over the years is by being aggressive. you have to punch injustice in the notices. you can't sit back and say, please, don't violate my rights. you have to always be stepping in and leaning into it, and that's something that i'm very proud our organization has always done.
then you have to take a piece that senator sanders was talking about, and have you to suspend disbelief on these odds. the odds are bad. i do believe so what. i'm so happy that senator sanders said what he just said because he said something like this in selma in march right before the president's vote. he said something like they had all the guns and although dogs and all the laws. i've not forgotten that. i have been repeating it over and over again. we do have to remind ourselves of that. we have become much too pragmatic and much too careful. we do the same thing with litigation. we weighure chances. we know when we don't have good justices in a particular jurisdiction. if we believe our lame is right and justified by the law, we press forward with that claim. we litigate the heck out of it. the last thing he'll say is that i agree with ari in the sense
that, you know, a new debate has unfolded or that we've seen something that we haven't seen before because the curious and just really dismaying things about voter suppression is you heard from the history, we have seen it before. the question is why is it always waiting on the shelf to be hankdzed? it hasn't been decimated. people still know what the tactics are, and they know how to use it, and i think that the part that is most distressing and about which we've -- we should concern ourselves is that the act of voting is an expression of citizenship. it's one of the most important expressions of citizenship in the country. serving on a jury is too, but in our national imagination we have taken the use of that ballot, and this is true all over the country. you saw those people standing on those long lines in 1994 in south africa. the ability to vote is seen as this expression of citizenship.
it becomes dangerous for our country, and i would say that frankly i don't think it's just voting. i think it's voting. i think the issues around police violence is the second issue that really goes hand in hand with this idea of who you are as a citizen. can you participate in the political process freely? african-americans are asking themselves that question in 2015 and many young african-americans are not liking the answer, and so to the extent that we all believe in investing in this democracy with our soul, our spirit, our work and so forth, we have a massive disinvestment plan happening right now, and it's called voter suppression, and it's called police violence and abuse, and we have to get our hands around it if we are to
encourage young people to participate as we want them to as citizens in this country. >> some recommendations for bipartisan commonsense solutions to making voting easier, including on-line voter registration, poll worker stations. many states, including alabama, still have not acted on those recommendations. why? >> if you go back and look at the -- how -- it has been hard for black folks in particular to have rights in this country, but if you go back and look at it, you will see that in the 1950s there was education rights that were at least recognized by the court, and then you saw in the 1960s then it was early 1960s, it was right to transportation.
when i talk to young people, not just young people, but older people as well, i talk to them about how powerful the vote really is. it literally affects everything in our lives. i can't think of her name. from -- she was traveling around trying to get young people to vote. when she came to selma, we had some 21st century young people to go through a routine -- and afterwards it was over she said i finally understand why it's important to vote. she said i'm trying to get people to vote, and i didn't understand it. what we did was ask the young people, say name we me one thing that voting doesn't affect, impact. some of them would say air.
then we would talk about -- wrau. environmental that if you didn't have the government, they would put all this stuff in there, and somebody would say water, and then we would talk about that. then they would talk with somebody else and say something about about religion, and we asked what can you build a church anywhere? can you bury folks anywhere? can you have it in school? every single thing is touched by voting because it's powerful. when you really know that, what you do is you don't just vote for the president and the vice president and stop. you vote in every single election, and you vote from the top of the ballot down to the very bottom.
he was one of those folks that thought when president obama was elected, i said, oh, here going to see this smart black man, this intelligent black man with this nice wife and these nice children and things are going to get better. they, in fact, got worse. he became a symbol of the advancement of black rights. he wasn't -- he really -- he became that symbol. so the efforts to try to stop it became greater, and the nice point on this is this. white supremacists has been so powerful that it has taken every branch of government to be able to enforce the right to vote and other rights for black people. it took the president of the united states. it took the supreme court. it took congress. when either one of those fell out, then the rights began to vote -- began to fall away.
in the 1960s we did have a president. in the 1960s we had a congress that passed a bill. we had a supreme court that was supportive of it. now we don't have a congress that's supportive of it, and we essential don't have a supreme court that's supportive of it. that's how powerful white supremacy is. until we learn that, we're going to be -- like i come to selma and -- here we are 44 years later still fighting the same fight. >> you know, absolutely. i want to, before get ready to raise your own voices and to ask this distinguished panel as questions. given the lack of legislative momentum and motivation to insure voting rights in the supreme court, of course, we're not even going to discuss them right now.
>> they made recommendation on what states could do, and this is very commonsense stuff to make sure that no voter waits more than 30 minutes to cast a ballot. make voting easier, more accessible. make registration easier, more accessible. this is something that shouldn't be politicized, but yet have been politicized of late. more states could adopt those kind of reforms and things like hillary clinton laid out in her speech. things like automatic voter ridges station that add 50 million voters to the roles. states like oregon are already doing it. it could have a very big impact. things like expanding early voting. adopting same-day voter registration. these are all reforms that states could adopt. the other thing the obama administration is doing is obviously the justice department has been very aggressive.
particularly in texas and income flk. one thing, this doesn't directly relate to the -- just in terms of what the congress can do is we're a powerful moment where we see symbols of hate and race echl come done. that's been a powerful moment. one of the ways that we can move beyond the symbolism is to look at these sources of power. there would be no better tribute to the people that died in south carolina. it's a powerful trip. so many of these members of congress talked about the importance of the history and what happened in selma, but so many of them went back to
washington. and did nothing. you can't honor selma as you honor the fight of the voting rights today. do you support restoring the voting rights act, and if not why not? how do you think about the strug of the voting rights and the struggle for social justice today? even though it's on fox, and i don't have high expectations, this is an opportunity.
>> thank you so much. >> we commemorate that every year, and we want to invite you all to selma. my question is somewhat controversial. in selma we have a black d.a. the only black d.a. in alabama. we have a black mayor. we have a black chief, black swrz. we also have a police department that racially profiles. a black man by the name of sean mitchell, the old black man, was killed, and they refused to release the cnn came. we have a majority black council who took away the citizens right to vote. you cannot speak at a city council meeting. how do you explain to young people why voting is so important to get them to the
polls. what can you say? what can you write about? this is young people with a black like matters movement that have the victims of profiling by black men, black d.a.'s. what can you say to them to encourage them to move forward in the fight for the right to vote? >> i think that's an important we. you know, it's one thing to talk about voter suppression which is important for us to discuss, but we are really here to talk about what it means to have the right to vote, and the right to vote is not supposed to be a mechanical act, right? you get on the line. you walk up to the thing. you see the same person that you have seen, you know, forever and
ever and ever. same person that your mom and dad voted for. or you see the person that has the r next to their name, and so you vote -- that's not what it was supposed to be. i think sometimes we lose sight of what the activist movement was about. the idea of african-americans having the opportunity to participate equally in the political process was important not just as a not just as a symbolic measure of citizenship but because we genuinely believe that voting gave us the power to change the material position to change our lives. we genuinely believe that voting gave us the material condition to change our livesment when you step into that booth you are voting for people who will represent you in a way that you think will give the best chance for your life, for your children's life, for your community and the things you believe in. when ever you lose sight of that, whether the person is
black or white or a democrat or republican and it becomes this rogue thing that we do and we go in the booth and press the lever, then we are still denying the sacrifice because they did not make the sacrifice for that person. the voting rights act does not say anywhere in it that you have this right to vote for a black elected official or a republican elected official or democratic elected official. it is profoundly a belief in the people to be able to have the power to control what happens in their community. and we see that pow er when we don't take voting seriously enough to know who that candidate is. to know that person running for d da. to go to the school board meetings. we do all of the shorthand and already giving away the right. protecting the right from the encroachment of people who would
diminishment comes the ability to exercise the right in a way that is intel skbrent robust and in a way that exists beyond election day and holds people accountable. >> we'd like to invest a half hour and expect it to last for four years. it takes us a half hour to go and vote and we expect that that's going to be everything we need for the next four years until it's election time again. and the moment you put somebody in office, there are other people waiting to get close to them. so that's one. even before that, we elect from who put themselves forward. until we have good person to
vote for and not voting for the lesser of two evils you will have that problem. our organizations have a duty to call the elected officials before them at least every quarter saying come and let's talk about these issues. because when you catch an elected official before they make up their mind, you can impact. when you catch them after they have already made up their mind, it's a hell of a thing to try to be able to impact. we have to be responsible not just going to vote. we have to make elected officials responsible by having them come before us on a regular basis. and we have to go to city council meetings and go to board of education and county commissions and all of those things. we have to realize that the power of our vote is not just casting the vote even if you vote in every election and even if you go all the way down the
battle. but you have to be responsible. we just can't leave it there because the moment we put something in, they cooperate. >> thank you so much. [ applause ] >> march 6,2015 oped, he wrote yes, we marched on the ballot box but for the tens of thousands of african-americans in selma, life ain't been no christmas there. how do we get to equal? >> first let me say i don't know. we have been fighting that battle for 40 some years. but one of the things that we have to understand is that white supremacy impacted white people
one way but it impacted black folks another way. white people feeling that they were superior, it had black people feeling that we are inferior. and it manifest itself in all kind of ways. some of us don't want a shot with black folks. some of us don't want to work with black folks. we had all of these kind of problems that came out of the whole white supremacy. we have to deal with that and talk about it. that's why i was so glad that the president at least raised the issue of the impact of slavery and the legacy when he spoke in charleston, south carolina. at least he raised it. we have to go back and deal with it and black folks have to deal with it, too. and the second part of it, very quickly, we have to have strong
organizati organizations. we have to have really strong organizations that are working all the time and we have to understand power and the relationship between power. when we understand that what we are doing is working in one little corner and then somebody else is working in four or five different ones and we have to understand that. until we understand that we can't begin to predict it. it is just so hard to be able to do. the thing i discovered was that you didn't need a majority of citizens of your race if you controlled all of the banking, all of the jobs, all of the other kinds of things. all of the institutions that could spread fear. it's all just wound up there together and it's just a great challenge to be able to do it. if i had -- if i knew that, i would put it in a bottle and sell it. >> speaking of selling it.
>> i live in the commonwealth of virginia and the commonwealth of virginia has had, for years, a device called disenfranchisement if you have a felony conviction. that's compounded by the fact that lots of misdemeanors are classified as felonies to insure that people cannot -- and this largely impacts african-americans. can you please address the history of this device? comment what if anything ldf and others are doing to try to address this. >> talked about slavery as far as the economic system.
slavery was the backbone. there was an effort to figure out how do we have this labor inexpensively. sharecropping was one way. we have been able to put them into prison and then the state would then sell their labor to businesses and other operations as a way of getting very cheap labor to continue to power the economic injury. i think that has carried through to the present day in terms of finding ways of -- economic system of finding ways of att k
attacking and setting to one side a large portion of our african-american population. that began as an economic approach, i think. >> so this is a great question and one of the really important voting rights issues of our day. a lot of work has been done over the years to try and challenge states that have laws that deny exoffenders the right to vote. in some states it has been legislatively overturned as it was in maryland. there are other states where it remains firmly entrenched and disenfranchises a large proportion of african-americans because our criminal justice system criminalizes african-americans
disproportionately. the supreme court has kind of looked at this issue, i would say not in a way that i think is really direct. certainly not recently. one of the wayses to overcome it is language and section two of the fourth ammendment of constitution. it is a punishment structure that was created for the south to allow southern states back into the union. it said that southern states would be punished if they denied the ability of men over age 21 to vote except in cases of having been criminals. so that language has been interpreted as a kind of a sanction or interpreted as the flavor of the 14th amendment,
accepting, understanding and endorsing the idea of felony disenfranchisement. that does not mean there is not an effort to deal with it on a state by state basis. one is the legislative overturn that i talked about. the other way is to talk about state constitutions. there is the possibility of this move. i think at the end of the day, you know, you could talk about this around the margins but you have got answer the alabama question. you have got answer states where the legislature is not going to do it. the state law is not amenable. where the percentages of the african-american population that is disenfranchised by these schemes is so outrageous that in
my view it is yet another challenge to the legitimacy of our democracy. it's the reason why one of the most powerful things that president obama said in his speech at the naacp convention last week is when he talked about people in prison and he said this sounds to those of us in this room like not the most controversial thing to say but those serving time in prison, they're americans, too. for this country that's like an extraordinary statement. so much of what we hear suggests that people who are incarcerated even if they are rightfully incarcerated for crimes they committed it's as though they are no longer citizens. they are citizens, too. without question people who are out of prison and who have served the time for which they were sentenced, most certainly are citizens.
this also has to be regarded as a key issue that we have to be concerned with. >> this is one area where there is new bipartisan support which is very interesting. number one criminal justice issues are rising even as an issue within the republican primary so you now have a very conservative people who are talking about the need to end or at least curve mass incarceration. there have been issues to end it but to relax some of the law. if you're looking at areas where there is bipartisan movement on voting rights, there th is an issue where there is some movement.
>> thank you so much. >> in the february 9th issue of nation magazine, you have an article called how to protect the vote. i was less interested in your article than what was in the context a bridge, a long forgotten constitutional clause for restoring voting rights in america. a long forgotten constitution clause that he's referring to is the second section of the 14th amendment that mandates that states reduce their presentation for denial of this of the citizens right to vote for any reason whatsoever.
recently c-span cast on july 4 a panel discussion that was hosted by frank smith at the african-american civil war museum that was on their panel. gordon was on that panel and he was introduced as a litigator in this era. and what was interesting about that is 14th amendment. as it applied to alabama, georgia, north carolina and south carolina. the reason being all of the states award their electors on a winner take all basis that is not based on any sta chute in that state. so he argued that they do not have the vet split or lose their representation in proportion to
their percentage that voted for democrats in those states. now, this provision has never been enforced. to be frank with you, the reason we got the 1865 voting rights act is because this country did not have the guts to ever enforce this provision of the constitution. and what's interesting historically, what wr i'm at with this. oh, one of the things that was introduced in that panel was the concept of automatic universal voter registration for anyone who pays his federal income tax in the state. if the state denies automatic registration from anyone who pays taxes in the state, he must require, the state is required to sent out someone who has paid their taxes their voter registration card. if they don't they deny representation to those for the
registration to have it not sent out. just a second. just one -- historical fact, we would not have a 14th amendment and 15th amendment. here is the ideal of our constitution if blacks were not allowed to vote in the first presidential election following the civil war. ulysses grant lost the popular white vote. he lost one because for the first time those of african decent was allowed to vote under the march 27, 1865, restoration act for the states. so blacks vote three years before the 15th amendment is part of the constitution. blacks had to be allowed to vote for the constitutional right to
vote. that is how absurd it is. to the the question is this. what do you think of the idea if the doum tags is good enough to take my money, it's good enough to take my vote. what do you think of automatic voter registration for anyone who pays their federal taxes in the state? and two, what do you think about the avenue as said as the long lost forgotten provision offers an opportunity for new avenues to address our right to vote? >> okay. thank you so much. >> i would not tie it to the payment of income taxes under any circumstances. so i, however, do believe in
automatic registration. my own belief is that automatic registration should function just as for young men the selective service functions where young men have to register at the post office. they're not drafted but they have to do it. i think that -- come on now. you had a lot of time now. when you walk across that stage and you get your diploma and you graduate from high school your voter registration card should be in that diploma. i'm not understanding why there should be any impediment. that's one. two, two, i'm actually intrigued by the wonderful statements that you made which is that we didn't and never have had the guts to enforce the punishment provision of section two of the 14th a i mendment. i think that is absolutely true. probably less inclination to punish today than ever did. i can't imagine that happening. it is the same provision that i
just described that is used to support expel and disenfranchisement and yet we would really never marshal the power that is right there in the clause to actually punish for the denial the right to vote which you are quite right. whether that is in fact a fertile area for litigation is something i would have to think more about. >> by the way -- >> we're letting the panelist respond. go ahead, sir. >> one of the things i think that we have to understand that when feelings get strong it doesn't matter what the law is. you can have all the laws on the books and you can end up with a terrible result. but the opposite of that is that
we have to understand that those of us who are -- whether black or white and realize that we have to be fighting every day, every hour, every minute to preserve not just preserve, but to expand voting rights. swre to find creative ways to be able to do it. but whatever comes up we have to find it. but we all have to fight for it and we have to find creative ways to do it. ways that nobody else has tried this may be a way to try. but get to the supreme court that would take away section five to expect them to go back and implement a section of the 14th amendment is not easy. but we have to fight for it anyway and who knows what
happens when you fight with everything that we have. >> final question. >> what are your thoughts that they no longer teaches civics? is that one of the reasons why we have such difficulty in our kids and adults now understanding the importance of voting not just at the presidential level but all the way down to dogcatcher? i constantly preach this and it drives me crazy when i talk about the importance of voting and they can't tell me who their council persons are. and the second person is we understand that this whole issue is around economics. economic justice, and when the 1% makes the people who sit just like the rest of us, makes white folks think that we are taking something from them, that's why
we can't come together and push to get things done because we have this economic divide. the gentleman i can't think of his name but he's in north carolina has the moral mondays and had a whole coalition of people. but he pulled together a whole coalition of blacks, whites, jews, everyone to fight a really good fight in north carolina. so, how do we get that started across the country? that's what it's all about. it's about economics and pitting poor people against poor people thinking that we have one bone and everybody's fighting for it. >> no, no. you go ahead. >> chicken bone. >> the civic lesson that we have when we had civics in school did not amount to much.
there is no resemblance to reality of politics at all. second thing is that whole system was set up to keep people from voting. that is why as a school, we don't really teach people about the power of voting. we may say you have a right to vote or you need to vote but we don't tell them at all about the power of it. if the civic lesson was really going to speak about the power to vote, then we wouldn't have to organization the vote. voters would simply vote on their own. unless it's going to be about teaching people about the power to vote it would be as useless as it was in the past and as useless as not having it now.
>> i follow the moral mondays movement in north carolina and i have been down there a number of times and what i have learned from it is that it started about voting rights. they started going down and getting arrested when north carolina started introducing measures to make it harder to vote. but it quickly expanded to be much bigger and broader than that. the reason why it expanded like that was not just because the legislature was doing so many radical things on so many issue s it was not just an hispanic issue. every group had a stake in north carolina was affected by this whether you cared about the environment or a women's right to choose or economic injustice. i think that was a powerful
message. it is kind of an asylum and what reverend barber said is that it was an issue for everyone in the state. a lot of shelf life that is longer than just one demonstration or one protester. i actually ended my book with the moral mondays movement because i think it is such a powerful example of the time of activism that we need. >> i think you're right but i also think that it wasn't abstract. it wasn't like the right to vote affects all of these other things. it so happened that in north carolina, all of those were there. it was about a woman's right to choose, about voting, about, you know, wages and a whole set of issues that were on the table and i think that, you know, one
of the things that pressured us is that it produces in us the will to come together. and there is an intensity of pressure that's building in this country right now around a whole set of issues and i think you all feel it. i think most of us feel it that we are in a moment of incredible pressure and that pressure is forcing us together. and that pressure is compelling us, i think sadly we don't have the pressure to ask how will we do it. it is on the obsession of so many things that have happened. it is. that's why you can't divorce the issue of police involved killings from the conversation. because that's al part of the environment of the pressure that we all are feeling.
it is all a threat to what we think of as the democratic ideal. it's around those dispretty issues that we begin to come together and create precisely what you're talking about and what reverend barber has been an instrument in creating in north carolina. there is a genuine interest. who was willing to say this is all of a piece that what you are experiencing. the right to choose is not entirely independent from what we are hearing around voter suppressing. so i think the ability of all of us to see those connections and understand that those connections and understand the way we join together when we have the ability to find those connections, i think that's the way it happens. and the good news is that it is happening. it is happening. it really is about whether or not you have found that
yourself. but, you know, i can tell you from those of us who do civil rights that it is happening. we are in that moment. and the question is how much can we make of it. what will we get out of it? how will we honor? the lives of people who lost in other con flicks that's how we do it. that is how it was done in the past. it's done by us coming together and deciding out of this moment, out of this tragedy, something will come that will honor the lives of those people in ways that they will advance the issues that they care about, advance justice and that's the moment we're in now. there is also tremendous opportunity. >> thank you so much. i want to thank our distinguished panelists once again. [ applause ]
dr. spencer cruise, hank san sanders, harry berman and i want to thank the smithsonian, the national museum for african-american history and culture for hosting us this evening. since i was the moderator, i didn't get the chance to talk. listening to this panel i thought about the summer of 1968. it was under the leadership of the southern leadership christian. with the task of writing down the addresses that led me to my
own history. now there is a lawyer and a litigator and i respected in all of the ldf champions working with julius chambers he would call me up at night and say why you sleeping. she did. she really did. summer of 1984 for many of you who were active in the campaign of jesse jackson throughout the country. and for all of you who have spent the last 14.5 years like myself fighting to renew voting in this country. i want to say thank you. especially to this panel for your willingness to fight and also your willingness to tell the story and history.
we should never forget that history. because that is our history. our collective history. as americans it's our history. as grandma francis would do every night of our childhood she would call us in order of our birth. we had lots of kids in louisiana. my grandmother voted in 1972. she would call us and recite scripture and i have to do it in her honor. do not grow weary in doing good in due season we will reap a harvest if we don't give up. i am here to say we have not given up and we thank you. 16 days from now when we commemorate that historic day
just remember, too many people gave of their lives and their time and sacrifices and we shall not forget. we will march on. we will fight on and we will win this battle for voting rights in the united states of america. god bless you and thank you so much. thank you panel. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] announcer: in arlington, virginia, we spoke to students about their research. this interview is about 15 minutes. host: cassandra good is the associated editor on papers of james monroe. she earned her doctorate at the university of pennsylvania. why is james monroe a
significant player in american history? cassandra good: the first thing that people think of is the monroe doctrine, which, obviously, still has important policy and ramifications today, but we sort of joke that he is a little bit like forrest gump. he shows up everywhere. if you look at the painting of washington crossing the delaware, he is there. he is in that painting with george washington. if you think about important , they in the 1790's louisiana purchase, he is involved. the war of 1812, he just gets his hand in so many moments in the first 40 to 50 years of the country. host why does he have a global : view of the world? cassandra good: he was sent on his first diplomatic appointment