In 2014, 83 restrictive voting laws were proposed in 29 different states. These laws attempt to limit early voting periods and institute strict i.d. laws that make it difficult for marginalized groups, specifically the poor, elderly, and young, to register and cast a ballot. Voting rights have gradually taken a hit since the 2010 midterm elections and increasingly so after the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, a clause that required states with histories of voting discrimination to get federal approval before changing electoral laws. Though this current climate paints a bleak outlook, we can take solace and inspiration in the collective actions of those before us, especially those of young people,who have long been mobilizing forces behind voting rights.
From the activists who fought to ratify the 15th and 19th amendments like Stowe's sister Isabella Beecher Hooker, to the students who coordinated registration drives across the south in the early 1960s, to Dr. King and Civil Rights icons like Fannie Lou Hamer and Bayard Rustin who championed the passing of the Voting Rights Act, the struggle over the vote is threaded into the fabric of the American narrative. These fights serve as a striking reminder that it took and takes arduous effort for some just to make it to the starting line of our democracy.
The significance of the the voting rights movement is twofold. In a striking and almost unprecedented manner, these campaigns saw the organization of hundreds of activists all galvanized towards a singular cause. The work of these activists highlighted the importance of planning, diligence, and collective strength to enact holistic and thorough change. Beyond the power of its organization, these movements located the right to vote as a fundamental part of civil rights and posed the questions of “who gets a say in our democracy?” and by extension “who gets to be considered American?”.
So, as we stand 50 years out from Blood Sunday, what can we do now to protect voting rights? What lessons have we learned from Selma? What have we failed to learn? In the wake of the Department of Justice's report on overt racism in the Ferguson police department, how can we leverage the work of Civil Rights leaders in the past to the movements of the present?
Come to the Stowe Center to learn more about the work of Stowe and her sister, along with ways that the past can be used to fuel contemporary action against injustices.