The keynote address was given by AG Eric Holder.
Our efforts honor the generations who have taken extraordinary risks, and willingly confronted hatred, bias, and ignorance – as well as billy clubs and fire hoses, bullets and bombs – to ensure that their children, and all citizens, would have the chance to participate in the work of their government. And our efforts reflect the fact that the right to vote is not only the cornerstone of our system of government, it is – and always has been – the lifeblood of our democracy. In fact, no force has proved more powerful – or more integral to the success of the great American experiment – than efforts to expand the franchise.
Despite this history, and despite our nation’s long tradition of extending voting rights – to non-property owners and women, to people of color and Native Americans, and to younger Americans – today, a growing number of our fellow citizens are worried about the same disparities, divisions, and problems that – nearly five decades ago – so many fought to address. In my travels across this country, I’ve heard a consistent drumbeat of concern from citizens, who – often for the first time in their lives – now have reason to believe that we are failing to live up to one of our nation’s most noble ideals; and that some of the achievements that defined the civil rights movement now hang in the balance.
Congressman John Lewis may have described the reason for these concerns best, in a speech on the House floor last summer, when pointing out that the voting rights he worked throughout his life – and nearly gave his life – to ensure are, “under attack… [by] a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, [and] minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.” Not only was he referring to the all-too-common deceptive practices we’ve been fighting for years. He was echoing more recent fears and frustrations about some of the state-level voting law changes we’ve seen this legislative season.
One of the key panels at the conference was “Protecting Your Tax Exempt Status
," a conversation with IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman and IRS Northeast Area Manager Peter Lorenzetti. Church leaders need to be clear about what they can and cannot do or say in church because of their 501(c)3 status.
Churches will be passing the collection plate to raise funds to pay for voter IDs for those who cannot afford them. Voter ID fees are no different than the poll taxes used in the past to disenfranchise blacks and other people of color.
The Action Steps
The summit panel's attorneys issued booklets detailing the new state laws, invited church leaders to join the Advancement Project email list for regular reminders of deadlines and other voting information, and encouraged church leaders to make use of 866-OUR-VOTE, a national voter-protection hotline that will be staffed with live workers starting on June 4. "Whenever somebody comes to you and says you can't vote, that's the line you call," said Arnwine. "When people come to you and say you're not registered, that's the line you call. That's the hotline that's your lifeline."
Pastors were also hooked up with The Advancement Project
, which is engaged in national efforts to protect voting rights.
As the CBC and CNBC move forward, I can't help but think about the hard-won victories we fought for in the past, and I am chilled by a sense of déjà vu—we have been here before, and it is agonizing to fight yet again for what we won. The difference now is that some of those who led struggles of the past hold elected office, due to those struggles.
So once again the call will go out, the battle will be fought and perhaps we will hear the sound of gospel songs like "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me round," "Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom" and "We shall overcome" as we fight our way to the ballot box once more.
The struggle continues.
We will march on 'til victory is won.