Race Matters in Greenbrier Valley held a virtual protest in favor of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act in order to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Tuesday, January 18.
The virtual protest was hosted by the Executive Director of Race Matters Loretta Young, a native of Greenbrier County. Race Matters, Young explained, is a “nonprofit organization in the state of West Virginia, that is minority focused and minority run. We are very much focused on the needs of underserved populations, particularly the Black, indigenous persons, and the Latin X communities. We are trying to build bridges of understanding and respect within our community. We want to amplify the voices of those that we often do not hear.”
As summarized on Congress.gov, “H.R.4 – John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021” would establish “new criteria for determining which states and political subdivisions must obtain preclearance [from the Department of Justice] before changes to voting practices may take effect. … Further, states and political subdivisions must notify the public of changes to voting practices. … The bill also outlines factors courts must consider when hearing challenges to voting practices, such as the extent of any history of official voting discrimination in the state or political subdivision.”
The bill has already been passed by the House of Representatives and is now under Senatorial consideration. The panel looks to draw attention to Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, the two Democratic Senators who have stated their opposition to the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. As of Tuesday, no Republican members of the Senate have announced support for the bill, with many voicing active opposition.
This year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day fell the day before the Race Matters protest. Several panelists pointed to his efforts or his arguments are they voiced support of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act:
– Larry Baxter, a Lewisburg native, veteran, and former president of the Greenbrier County Chapter of the NAACP, explained that he found it “so ironic that all those politicians that stand give praise to Dr. King, and all those who followed him in his attempt to give the Negro the right to vote, talk about the determination, greatness, and courage of this man, yet they do everything in their power to tear away at rights he fought so hard to gain for his people. We need … our political leaders [to] stand for the rights of all citizens to vote without suppression or attempts to limit the voice and will of the people.”
– Anessa Sherrod, a Lewisburg resident and social worker, said “every senator who does not stand on the right side of history is complicit in perpetuating discriminatory practices that give power to a minority to threaten legislation that the majority of Americans support. Failure to deliver voting rights legislation to the American people will put senators on the wrong side of history. Black Americans are tired of having our voting rights negotiated by a court of law. As the people most directly impacted by anti voter bills in states across the country, we demand action.”
– Scott Miller, the Executive Director of Just For Kids, a child advocacy center in Beckley, read comments from President Joe Biden last week. Biden hoped to get each senator on the record with their vote on the bill, saying “democracy appears to be on the brink and our senators seem to be on the wrong side. We are not living in a democracy we thought we were living in.”
– Jeff Kessler, local small business owner and member of Race Matters, highlighted a speech from Dr. King saying “I think that it’s a tragedy that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided senators who use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting.”
– Lacey Watson, a former candidate for West Virginia’s Third District in the House of Representatives in 2020 and a resident of Bluefield, highlighted “the need for people, regardless of socio-economic standing, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of religious preference, to come together and realize that the foundation of our democracy is established in our ability to vote.”
Young ended the virtual protest with a reminder of the history of African Americans marching for voting rights, the violent treatment of African Americans attempting to exercise those rights, and noted “partisan politicians [have] continued to hack away at the freedom to vote.” She looked back to her days at school in Greenbrier County and explained why she believed the right to vote needed to be aggressively protected.
“I was born in America. I was educated in the American public schools. … While attending Greenbrier Junior High School here in Lewisburg, I remember my civics teacher telling us it was our constitutional right … to vote and to show up to vote. Do you think that, having come up in that kind of atmosphere, that I think it’s fine … [to] throw out the ballots out of the majority of the people and say, no, this is who we’re going to elect? That is not a democracy. That is a dictatorship. … A democracy should ensure the ability for every American to participate in the safe, accessible, and transparent elections.”
The entire rally is available on Facebook, on the “Race Matters in Greenbrier Valley” page.
|The Race Matter panel.|