Celebrating the National John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Action Day

Public Citizen News / July-August 2021

By Rhoda Feng

This article appeared in the July/August 2021 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.

Earlier this year, Georgia became a lightning rod for voter suppression when it passed a law that makes it more difficult to vote absentee, limits the number of drop boxes for ballots, and criminalizes giving people water or food while they wait in line to vote, among other restrictions.

The Georgia bill is part of a national trend. Following record-breaking Black, Brown, and youth voter turnout in the Georgia runoff election, state legislatures across America have released an offensive onslaught of undemocratic legislation designed to specifically suppress the vote of communities of color and youth voters.

So on May 8, activists got into “good trouble” – the late John Lewis’s turn of phrase — by hosting votercades in more than 150 cities nationwide. The spectacle – which saw more than 10,000 activists taking to their cars and the streets and garnered an avalanche of media attention – was coordinated by Public Citizen the  Transformative Justice Coalition, the Declaration for American Democracy, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and involved more than 300 coalition partners,

Cities across the U.S., including Tucson, St. Louis, Oakland, Urbana, and Champaign, all issued proclamations declaring May 8 John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Action Day. The animating impulse behind that day was to uplift and empower citizens to be civically involved in protecting the right to vote by passing the For the People Act (S. 1) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4), as well as keep the momentum going to support statehood for the District of Columbia and remove the obstacle of the filibuster to voter justice.

In Alabama, Black Voters Matter steered their “Blackest Bus in America” through the state to celebrate the legacy of the late civil rights activist and congressman John Lewis and to educate voters on the bill that bears his name. H.R. 4, which was introduced following a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2013, would restore key parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that protected voters from racial discrimination and intimidation.

In Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis had recently signed into effect a voting law that would make it harder for Floridians to vote, cars decked out in red, white, and blue banners, American flags, and pictures of Lewis formed a caravan that wended its way across Pompano Beach.

Three generations of activists participated in a votercade in Burbank, Calif., and organizers registered voters at the event and urged attendees to call their representatives and those in other states to show support for S. 1 and H.R. 4.

Among the prominent speakers at events across the U.S. were: U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), and John Sarbanes (D-Md.). The event culminated in a national broadcast that has been viewed more than a quarter of a million times.

“This is our moment to build a stronger democracy, expand the freedom to vote, ensure that congressional districts are not drawn to advance one party’s power, and to give a voice to everyday Americans over billionaires and Big Business looking to buy our elections,” said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign. “It is these types of nationwide actions that help us raise our voice and advance our struggle. In the face of sweeping voter suppression laws and further attacks on the freedom to vote by the U.S. Supreme Court, failure is not an option.”

To keep the drumbeat going for voting rights, Public Citizen will be organizing nationwide vigils on July 17, the anniversary of John Lewis’ death.