By Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune, NCC COO
The National Council of Churches has joined with other civil rights, community organizations, and faith groups for a summer of action around voting rights legislation. These groups have organized several actions that NCC staff have participated in and supported.
On Thursday, July 29, the National Black Women Leaders & Allies held another event to amplify issues around voter suppression and to speak out on their theme, “Freedom to Vote” Voting Rights Call to Action on Capitol Hill. Speakers included a multi-faith and bipartisan group of women leaders all speaking in support of voting rights: Dr. Johnetta Cole, President & Chair of the Board, National Council of Negro Women; Rev. Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-Chair, National African American Clergy Network; Rev. Hyepin Im, Founder, President & CEO, Faith & Community Empowerment (FACE); Melanie Campbell, President & CEO, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP) and Convener, Black Women’s Roundtable; Cora Master Barry, Board Member, NCBCP, Former First Lady of the District of Columbia; Carly Fiorina, Chairman, Carly Fiorina Enterprises, Former Republican Presidential Candidate; Sheila Katz, President, National Council of Jewish Women; Sindy Bevadies, CEO, League of United Latin American Citizens; and, Virginia Kase Solomon, CEO, League of Women Voters of the US. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee demonstrated her fervent support for the cause as well, engaging in civil disobedience which resulted in her arrest alongside several of the other women leaders including many from Georgia and Alabama.
I opened this event with a prayer and word of greeting (pictured above). I have to admit that it’s surreal to be a part of these efforts. I was one of the many people who thought the issue of voter suppression and disenfranchisement was settled decades ago. But I remember the pain in my mother’s voice after the Supreme Court gutted voting rights in Shelby v. Holder in 2013. “I can’t believe we are going through this again,” she said obviously shaken by the decision.
I had learned during a conversation with my mother after watching the movie, “The Butler” that my grandparents, with only about a middle school education, had risked their lives and safety by meeting in secret in the “back country” in South Carolina to teach other people how to fill out the forms to register to vote. The KKK, who some people are trying to tell us are not immoral now, attempted to terrorize my grandparents by burning a cross in front of their home. My mother also sat in at lunch counters at Woolworth’s in Columbia, S.C. when she was a student at Allen University in the fight for voting rights. As students on their college campuses at HBCUs, my children organized voter registration events and encouraged civic participation.
I mentioned my family history in my comments last Thursday. It is beyond comprehension to me that we are, indeed, still fighting for voting rights and the dignity of God’s people to be recognized in this democracy called America. Yet, I am more determined than ever to continue to advocate for and fight against every attempt to obstruct or deny access to voting. I know that I owe it to those who fought this fight before me as well as to those who will pick up the mantle and continue the fight until freedom is won.
NCC also continues to be a part of this fight. From participating in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s until today, NCC continues to advocate for legislation that protects voting rights. Recently, on July 15th, Rev. Aundreia Alexander, NCC Associate General Secretary for Action and Advocacy participated in civil disobedience along with Congresswoman Joyce Beatty and several other women leaders to bring attention to the need for voting rights legislation to be passed. NCC President & General Secretary Jim Winkler participated in a public witness with the Poor People’s Campaign, one of NCC’s partner organizations, on Monday, Aug. 2nd.