Schakowsky Statement on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day & the Fight for Voting Rights

January 19, 2015
Press Release

CHICAGO – Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a time to celebrate the life, accomplishments, and dreams of one of our greatest American leaders.  Dr. King stood for equality, freedom and peace; his work inspired a generation to advocate – non-violently – for the recognition of civil rights and liberties that had previously been denied.  His legacy is with us today as we work to achieve his vision of an America that provides voting rights, economic justice, good jobs and wages, and improved health care for all. 

Nearly 50 years ago, Dr. King led an historic march in Selma, Alabama.  My esteemed colleague and good friend, Congressman John Lewis, was there and as the marchers crossed the Edmund Winston Pettus Bridge, he was beaten so badly his skull was fractured and he almost died.

Congressman Lewis now leads an annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage crossing that same bridge in Selma.  I was privileged to make this walk with him last year and to reflect on the courage and determination of those who marched in 1965.  It was because of the leadership of Dr. King, Congressman Lewis and so many others that the Voting Rights Act became a reality – protecting the right to vote around the country for nearly half a century.   It is now up to us to make sure that those rights are preserved.

Unfortunately, states around the country have moved to make it harder for Americans to cast their votes in elections by requiring photo identification and shortening early voting periods.  Their actions have disproportionately high impacts on lower income Americans, people of color, and senior citizens.  Even worse, in 2013, the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutted many of the protections in the Voting Rights Act that have done so much good for so long. 

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act this summer, it is critical that we redouble our efforts to shield American voters from harmful and discriminatory voter suppression practices and to give every person the right to participate in our democracy.  While we were unable to pass legislation to do so in the last Congress, we must commit to doing so this year.  There can be no better way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Selma marches and the Voting Rights Act. 

Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We must keep fighting until justice and equality become a reality for all Americans.