Vigils for the Vote

Tommy Blackwell sings the Black national anthem in honor of John Lewis. Photo by Cory Clark (Lawless Media LLC).

Activists in Center City and Andorra turned out this summer to demand voter protections

Good Trouble: John Lewis Candlelight Vigil in Center City
By Cory Clark

Saturday, July 17: Protesters rallied in the rain in Center City to demand the passage of the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, on the first anniversary of the death of civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis. The rally, which was part of the nationwide vigil to commemorate Lewis and the voices he inspired, featured local journalist/activist Purple Blackwell, Members of the Granny Peace Brigade and several other progressive organizations, all gathered to amplify the message to get in “good trouble, necessary trouble.”

From the moment the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed, the GOP has been gunning to dismantle its protections, repeatedly attempting to push through laws that ultimately would be shot down. That is until the 2013 Shelby County V. Holder Supreme Court ruling, which kneecapped the Act by removing its preclearance provision for states with a history of voting discrimination.

Protesters in the rain. Photo by Cory Clark (Lawless Media LLC)

They did this even while admitting that the law served its purpose perfectly, blocking 87 discriminatory changes to voting laws, with hundreds more preemptively removed because they wouldn’t have survived preclearance.

Things have only gotten worse since a recent Supreme Court ruling (Brnovich V. DNC), further chipped away at the Voting Rights Act by upholding two provisions in the current Arizona voter suppression law that would disproportionately affect minority voters.

As of mid-June, 28 voter suppression bills have passed in 17 states, 389 of them have been introduced in 48 states, and at least 61 of them are moving through their state’s legislature.

Biden and other Democratic leaders have called these racist attacks on voting rights “Jim Crow 2.0,” and the “most significant test on our democracy since the Civil War.”

“It’s despicable that we are still fighting for these fundamental rights we have been fighting for since reconstruction,” said Philadelphia-based activist and journalist Purple Blackwell.

Activists like John Lewis, Jesse Epps, Purple Blackwell, and countless others have fought against these egregious assaults on one of our most fundamental human and civil rights their entire lives. Yet here we are a half-century after what should have been a decisive win on voting rights, having to start over.

“It isn’t enough for the president to talk about voting rights, he has to come out unequivocally for overturning the filibuster, the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and For the People Act.” Said journalist John Nichols. “Anything less just doesn’t cut it.”

Despite all his rhetoric, Biden continues to refuse to use the tools available to him.

Sajda “Purple Queen” Blackwell. Photo by Cory Clark (Lawless Media LLC).

“The President’s view continues to be aligned with what he has said previously, he has not supported eliminating the filibuster because it has been used the other way around,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

Not Even Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, who arguably handed Biden the Democratic nomination and presidency, seems to have been able to break through to Biden on the urgency of the moment.

“Biden needs to “pick up the phone and tell (Sen.) Joe Manchin, we should do a carve-out for constitutional issues. I don’t care if he does it through a microphone or a telephone; just get it done,” said Clyburn. This being just the latest attempt to push Biden on getting a workaround to Republican’s opposition in the Senate.

“Democrats in Washington need to step up, it is disgusting that Republicans are being allowed to ride roughshod over voting rights in America, that Democrats in Texas had to flee their state to slow down racist, anti-American voter suppression laws, that these laws are being pushed across the country,” said Blackwell. “Biden needs to use whatever tools he has, whether it’s an executive order, the filibuster, the bully pulpit and not just in the seats of power like Center City but get out in the neighborhoods.”

Activists at the rally described this moment as an all-hands-on-deck, by whatever means necessary moment. “Tonight, is only the beginning of this fight, we need to be doing whatever it takes to make sure we get the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and For the People Act passed, even if it means getting radical and pushing as hard against our leaders as we did last summer, we need to go to their homes and make their lives miserable, if that’s what it takes,” said Blackwell.

About Cory Clark 15 Articles
Cory Clark is a Photojournalist and writer focused on Human Rights and other social issues. His work can be found in hundreds of media outlets from Philly Magazine to Fortune. He has been a long time freelancer for Getty Images, The Associated Press, and Association French Presse. Cory, his wife, and son are residents of East Germantown.

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