June 25, 2014
Summer is finally here with all the things many of us look forward to after a cold, hard winter and rainy spring; cook-outs, family reunions, gardening, vacations and so much more. Some of you remember first hand “Freedom Summer” in 1964. That summer long ago was not a time to relax. It was a time for hard work, courage and action. And it cost some people their lives. As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, it is time to recognize what our elders, the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement, did to advance voting rights and renew our own commitment to ensure fair and equal access to the ballot box in our time. If you’ve forgotten the details, let me share with you some of the incredible achievements of Freedom Summer and what each of us can do to protect that legacy. In 1964, Mississippi was chosen by a coalition of civil rights groups as the battleground to increase voter registration among African American. Less than 7 percent of all Blacks in that state were registered to vote at the time, the lowest rate in the nation. More than a thousand young volunteers – Whites, Blacks, Jews and Christians (including people from Greater Cleveland) descended on Mississippi to educate Black residents about the importance of voting and improve their quality of life. They established “Freedom Schools” to address inequalities in Mississippi’s educational system. They challenged the seating of white delegates to political conventions and registered many people to vote. For their efforts, organizers faced harassment, violence, bombings, kidnapping, torture and even murder. On June 21, 1964, three young volunteers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner disappeared. Their bodies were discovered later that summer. Members of the Ku Klux Klan were eventually convicted of their murder. The sacrifice of those volunteers however, was not in vain. The events of Freedom Summer shocked and upset many Americans from all walks of life. They played a pivotal role in passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The benefits increased over time. In 2012, African Americans in Mississippi voted at a higher rate than whites or Hispanics and I’m pleased to say, African American voter participation in Ohio exceeded the national average. But 2012 was a presidential election year and beginning shortly after the first election of President Obama in 2008, we have seen dozens of states enact one restrictive law after another making it disproportionately harder to vote for minorities, the elderly, students and low income voters. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court also dealt a blow to the Voting Rights Act by striking down Section V, the section that required federal pre-clearance of election law changes and oversight of states and local jurisdictions that had a history of discriminating against minority voters. As your voice in Congress, I have urged the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to call a vote on new legislation that would update and restore federal oversight provisions in the Voting Rights Act. Last week, I participated in a news conference in Washington (and there will be more) to talk about the need to pass new voter protections. I mentioned that the volunteers of Freedom Summer knew it took all people to make a better America and we are better together. I am part of a task force that has spoken to the Republican House Leadership stressing the importance of acting on voting rights. They see no urgency but I’m not done trying to convince them otherwise. And I hope you will join me in “being the change in the world we want to see.” The Ohio Voter Bill of Rights Coalition must soon submit signatures to place a state level Voter Bill of Rights Amendment on the November ballot. If you are currently a registered voter, please consider signing the petition. Volunteers will be circulating petitions at the Edgewater Beach Happy Hour Event on June 26th from 5:30 to 8:30 pm; at the Euclid Beach concert on June 27th from 6 pm to 8pm, and at Wade Oval on June 25th at 6 to 8:30pm. Please don’t forget to register to vote and learn which candidates support voting rights for all people and those who don’t. It’s also important that you follow through and cast your ballot in the November election. Let Freedom Summer be your inspiration and let freedom ring for all. Have a good week everyone.