WASHINGTON – Fifty years ago,John Lewis spoke at the March on Washington. Friday,he said the need to make trouble – good,necessary trouble – is still alive.
Lewis accepted the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy’s Progressive Champions Award at the organization’s national convention Friday. The award is given to those who uphold progressive policies.
The Georgia Democrat was elected to Congress in 1986.
Lewis grew up in rural Alabama before the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and saw segregation. When he asked his family why,they told him that this was the way it was – and don’t get in trouble.
But Lewis heard the actions and words of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.
“They inspired me to get in the way,to get in trouble,good trouble,necessary trouble,” Lewis said.
He participated in the Freedom Rides in 1961 and organized sit-ins at lunch counters in Nashville,Tenn. He chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the leaders of the 1965 march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma,Ala.,which was attacked by local authorities.
At this point in history,society is a little too quiet,Lewis said.
“There’s still too many people in our society that have been left out and left behind,” Lewis said.
After the award ceremony,several legal experts spoke about the Voting Rights Act.
Ryan Haygood,director of the Political Participation Group at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund,called the act a “truth-teller.”
The Supreme Court is considering a challenge to Section 5 of the act in a case known as Shelby County v. Holder. The court,which heard the case in February,is expected to issue a ruling before it goes on recess at the end of the month.
The act applies in whole or part to 15 states,Haygood said,and all voting law changes have to be submitted to Department of Justice or to a federal court in D.C. before taking affect.
“The theory is that these jurisdictions are places where voting discrimination historically has been most intense,most entrenched and over time has been most persistent and adaptive,” he said.
Discrimination does happen elsewhere,but some combination of state law and federal law are enough to quell discrimination,Haygood said.
Nina Perales,vice president of litigation for the Mexican America Legal Defense and Education Fund,spoke about the interesting position in which the Latino community finds itself.
“Today,despite our participation gap,which still lingers,our numbers are increasing and our participation is increasing and we see vote suppression increasing as a response to that,” she said.
Reach Christine Scalora at [email protected] or 202-326-9865. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.