50 Years Later: Why We’re Still Fighting for Voting Rights
by Rachel Rye Butler
August 6, 2015
Voter discrimination has serious consequences for everyone, including environmentalists. Today—on the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965—we're calling on Congress to #RestoreTheVRA.
It was a victory that many fought and died for in the Civil Rights Movement. Fifty years ago today, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, guaranteeing the right to vote for all American citizens by prohibiting discrimination against African Americans and other minority groups in voting practices.
It’s shocking, then, that 50 years later we are facing the first presidential election since the passage of the Voting Rights Act where there are fewer protections against voter discrimination rather than more.
What’s Going On Here?
One of the fundamental pieces of the Voting Rights Act called for special provisions that applied to jurisdictions that have historically engaged in egregious voting discrimination, predominantly home to African American and minority communities.
These provisions—called preclearance—called for monitoring any proposed changes to voting rules so as to prevent further discriminatory practices blocking people from being able to vote. But in 2013, that all changed when the Supreme Court ruled in the Shelby v. Holder case, arguing that this provision is unconstitutional in part because it is, according to the Court, “no longer to responsive to conditions.” In short, they ruled that the provision is based on outdated logic and out of place in today’s cultural context.
But not everyone agreed. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it, “throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
What This Means for Environmental Justice
Voter disenfranchisement has ramifications on everyone and everything, including the environment.
Communities of color disproportionately suffer environmental impacts at the hands of big corporations. These communities are often where oil refineries, coal plants, and chemical plants are placed, contributing to devastating health impacts like higher rates of asthma and heart disease. And, while it’s not the case across the board for every member of these communities, overwhelmingly they vote for candidates likely to support strong environmental regulations and advocate for getting corporate money out of politics.
Ensuring that everyone has the right to vote is an issue we should all care about. And for the environment it’s especially critical. We will not be able to make progress on environmental policy if people don’t have the ability to elect leaders that share their values. That’s why Greenpeace is joining up with diverse allies to call for Congress to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Join the Call to Restore the Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Advancement Act would right the wrong of Shelby v. Holder by restoring provisions that require states with egregious disenfranchisement violations to get clearance from the Department of Justice before making changes to the way they conduct elections. It would also require the Attorney General to send election monitors to states with a history of problems.
It’s time to take to the virtual streets for the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Along with our partners across the movement, we’re asking everyone to share this graphic on all their social media spaces (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—whatever you’ve got) to call on Congress to do their job to protect our democracy.
It may not seem like a lot, but this quick action can have a big impact. Congress needs a reminder that they are elected by the people and should be acting for the people. And the people need to speak up to let them know we want action now.