In justifying the decision to quash the protections of the Voting Rights Act for African-American, Latino and other voters of color, John Roberts, chief justice of the Supreme Court, wrote that “things have changed.” In a sense, Roberts is correct: As this nation has tumbled through time grappling with its own history, the persistence of states of the former Confederacy in suppressing African-American voting power has adapted, shape-shifted and adopted clever disguises. Efforts to extend voter suppression against Latino, Native, and Asian-American voters in these states have also proliferated. Indeed, things have changed. Of course, there has been significant progress for voters of color since 1965, when hundreds of heroes risked their lives in crossing a small bridge in Selma, Ala. — a bridge named after Confederate brigadier and “Grand Dragon” Edmund Pettus.
Those marchers, met on the Montgomery side of the bridge by state troopers, attack dogs, tear gas and arms, would likely have a lot to teach us about the progress that has been made since 1965.
The Selma marchers had at least two objectives: To vote, and to be seen and heard and participate fully in this treasured and evolving democracy that we all share together.
Just months after the senseless state violence of Bloody Sunday, the Voting Rights Act was passed — a desperately needed piece of legislation to enforce the simple but fundamental mandates of the 15th Amendment.
The Voting Rights Act itself represented tremendous progress; the work that it did from 1965 until last week was additional progress.
But the Voting Rights Act has not yet completed its important work because, as Justice Roberts said, things have changed. The poll taxes, “literacy” tests, and grandfather clauses that were current-day targets of the Selma marchers are thankfully relics of history for most Americans now. Today’s voter discrimination takes some different incarnations, in the form of voter ID laws, at-large election districts and redistricting schemes that either fracture communities of color among many districts or stuff them into a small number of oversaturated ones.