Today Is the 55th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Here’s What You Can Do.

Image via Shutterstock

By Kathleen Walsh

August 6, 2020

Nonprofits and advocacy organizations have launched new initiatives to increase voter participation in November, especially as in-person outreach is now out of the question because of the virus. 

Today is the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which was enacted to protect Americans from voter suppression by prohibiting state and local governments from passing laws that may result in discrimination at the polls. 

“Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color,” President Lyndon Johnson said in his Aug. 6, 1965 speech. “This law will ensure them the right to vote. The wrong is one which no American, in his heart, can justify. The right is one which no American, true to our principles, can deny.”

The Voting Rights Act proved so successful that the U.S. Department of Justice once referred to it as “the single most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress.” 

Butin 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a key provision in that landmark legislation. Pointing to the progress that had been made in combating discriminatory voting laws, the conservative-leaning court ruled that federal oversight was no longer necessary in the nine, mostly Southern states with a track record of discriminating against Black voters.

Since then, several of the nine states previously covered by federal oversight have made it substantially more difficult to vote. States like Texas and North Carolina established voter ID laws, and a 2018 Brennan Center report found that previously covered states purged Americans from their voter rolls at much higher rates than non-covered states. Georgia, for example, purged twice as many voters—1.5 million—between 2012 and 2016 as it did between 2008 and 2012.

RELATED: Coronavirus Shows the Real and Urgent Need for a Fully Restored Voting Rights Act

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on and many states find themselves grappling with how to hold elections safely, many voting rights advocates believe it’s imperative that the Voting Rights Act be fully restored. The Democratic-led House passed a bill to do just that in December, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to take up the legislation. 

Another voting rights package was introduced by Democrats last month in honor of the late Georgia Rep. John Lewis, who spent his life fighting for civil rights. According to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the new bill would help provide additional resources for election officials, and include a plan to vote by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Voting is the most powerful tool we have to fight back against oppressive and dangerous policies that threaten our democracy, our bodies, our health, and our lives… During this pandemic, the attacks are worse and the stakes are higher. This is not a coincidence — those who are silenced cannot demand their freedom,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. “In the wake of the passing of Congressman John Lewis, we cannot give up the fight for the civil and human rights he fought so hard to secure.”

It’s clear the 2020 presidential election will be among the most consequential elections in American history. As such, nonprofits and advocacy organizations have launched new initiatives to increase voter participation in November, especially as in-person outreach is now out of the question because of the virus. 

If you’re looking for new ways to get involved as the election draws closer—especially as the country still faces gaps in voter registration—here are a few groups to check out.

Black Futures Lab

Alicia Garza, who helped found the Black Lives Matter movement, launched Black Futures Lab in 2018 to help advance policies at the local, state, and federal level that will benefit the Black community.

“If we’ve learned anything from this past election, it’s that Black folks drive the progressive political power in this country, but rarely benefit from the fruits of our labor,” Garza said in 2018 upon the organization’s launch. “For too long, people have spoken for us and perpetuated false representations of the issues that drive our votes.”

After spending time working to better understand the needs and concerns of Black voters, Black Futures Lab unveiled its Black Agenda 2020, which highlights those issues. Using this policy agenda, the organization’s Black to the Ballot initiative has partnered with 15 Black-led grassroots groups with the goal of registering 10,000 new Black voters. Organizers are also working to get 50,000 people to pledge to vote.

This week, Black Futures Lab launched its Electoral Action Center to help folks stay up to date on what they need to know about the upcoming election. Find out how you can get involved and sign up to support their agenda here.

Students Demand Action

Students Demand Action is the grassroots, student-led movement of Everytown for Gun Safety, focused on ending the epidemic of gun violence in America. Alanna Miller, a volunteer leader with Duke University Students Demand Action and a member of the Students Demand Action National Advisory Board, said the group has shifted its outreach and organizing strategy this summer because they cannot organize in person due to the virus. 

“We developed this Summer of Action campaign, in which we have daily calling shifts into priority states to register young voters, because we know that young people are going to be extremely important—both in getting them registered to vote as well as having them turn out to the polls in November,” Miller told COURIER. The campaign’s goal is to register 100,000 young voters before the election, and challenges volunteers to register new voters each week.

RELATED: Obama Calls for Expansion of Voting Rights During Stirring Eulogy for John Lewis

The organization offers ample online training. “Students can sign up on the website, and once they do that we reach out to ask them when the best time for our orientation sessions would be, so they can get trained real quick,” Miller said. There is also plenty of support for volunteers during shifts. “It’s a Zoom call with some of our Summer of Action captains leading it, and everyone is on mute and making calls together. So, the captions are there the whole time. If there’s ever any issues, they can help resolve them.”

“Most people are really excited to hear from us,” Miller said about phone banking. “Gun violence prevention is something that people really care about. So, they’re very receptive when we talk to them about it.” 

Planned Parenthood Action Fund

Planned Parenthood Action Fund (PPAF), the nonprofit advocacy arm of the healthcare provider working to protect and advance reproductive and sexual care, has also been organizing voter registration phone and text banks. PPAF sent thousands of texts in advance of the primaries to help voters update their registration and submit absentee ballots, and these outreach campaigns are continuing. 

Pascale Bernard, VP of Public Affairs of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, encourages people to join the Advocacy Collective to volunteer for these text and phone banking outreach programs in your area. You can also help mobilize voter participation by simply reaching out to your own network. 

“I would make sure [people] reach out to their networks, to five people (I like the number five), make sure that they’re registered, encourage them to go vote, and then get them to reach out to five of their friends to do the same,” Bernard told COURIER.

She also stressed the importance of local elections and lawmakers, which is part of why mobilizing and educating more voters is such a big priority. “The reality of the situation is the executive branch of government does not make bills and laws,” Bernard said. “It is the legislative branch. And so when people are complaining about various laws at the local, state, and federal level, it’s your local council member, it is your state senator, your congressional person” that matters. 

United We Dream Action

Last month, the largest immigrant, youth-led community in the country launched a new team called Here To Stay Squad, a movement made up of young immigrants volunteering to mobilize voters. Many are unable to vote themselves because they are undocumented youth protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. 

Today Is the 55th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Here’s What You Can Do.
Image via United We Dream Action

“[Trump’s] attack on DACA holders is part of his continued attacks on immigrants and people of color,” Juanita A. Monsalve, senior marketing and creative director of United We Dream Action, told The Americano. “By limiting DACA renewals from two years to one, it’s clear Trump is trying to make it easier to deport more and more young people, should he win re-election in November. We aren’t going to let that happen.”

Through educational materials and other training, their goal is to connect with 2,000 volunteers initially, and have that group branch out to people in their communities. Organizers hope the movement will ultimately grow to upwards of 10,000 people. 

When We All Vote

Nonpartisan advocacy group When We All Vote was launched in 2018 by some of society’s biggest and most beloved public figures: Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monae, Chris Paul, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw. Their mission is to increase voter turnout in every election. 

The organization’s Voting Squad program gives volunteers the opportunity to get training on how to register their communities to vote and become “Voting Squad Captains.” Communications Director Crystal Carson emphasized that the program is for everybody, no matter your political affiliation, or how much or little you understand about the voting process. 

Voting Squad Captains reach out to at least three people in their personal networks to join their “squad” and follow up with When We All Vote’s monthly staff calls, which provide volunteers with additional resources, training, strategies, and initiatives.

Because voting and voting access is different all over the country, the organization provides volunteers with information relevant to their local area that they can then share with their squads, including important deadlines, polling locations, how to vote by mail, and more. Part of the training to become a Voting Squad Captain also includes learning how to pass this information on to the community.

“The first thing we talk to individuals about is about sharing their story and talking about why they’re voting,” Carson said. “We find that having conversations with their communities is important.” 

Sharing your personal reasons for voting is important to motivating others on social media as well. The organization gives volunteers toolkits with useful sample language. 

“If you’re feeling really passionate about something, you want to share that online and talk about why and what is the reason you want to vote,” Carson said. You might be inspired by your children, for example, or maybe you’ve been taking part in Black Lives Matter protests. “But you also have to take that back to the polls and that’s a really important message.”




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