This year marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act.
The law was quickly followed by the Voting Rights Act, which immediately had an impact on one of the most important civil rights – the right to vote. LBJ considered the Voting Rights Act his signature legislative achievement.
In 1965, 250,000 African Americans registered to vote and the number of African American elected officials quickly increased from literally a handful in 1964 to 4,912 in 1980 nationwide, the year African American elected participation reached its high-water mark.
After Congress amended the law to include bilingual election requirements in 1975, the number of Latinos registered to vote nearly doubled in twenty years. And for Asian Americans, that number grew 56 percent from 1996 to 2006. A nation so diverse – and becoming more so every year – needs to ensure that our Congress and state legislatures accurately reflect our citizens.
We’ve made a lot of progress since 1965, but the fight for justice rages on, particularly since our Supreme Court severely weakened this landmark law last year by striking down two key provisions – one of which required states and local governments to obtain clearance before changing their voting law practices.
What’s the best way to celebrate these most important milestones, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act? The answer is clear – by registering to vote and by making sure we cast our ballots on Election Day.
Voting needs to be second nature, particularly in communities that are still struggling to be fully heard. That’s why I strongly believe we need to engage our kids early and often in the political process.
We need them to understand why voting is important. I even take my own daughters, who are eight and eleven years old, with me when I go to the polls so they can see firsthand why voting is central to our democracy.
We need to help children understand why it’s important to vote. To build a better future, we need to wake up, get involved and participate in our democratic process.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve mentored many students and youth in various programs throughout my career. Many of the youth come from at-risk communities and have had to overcome major obstacles in their lives.
Last week I reconnected with four of them unexpectedly through various contexts, events, phone calls and venues. It was great to hear about how they overcame those obstacles, graduated high school, enrolled in college and starting working in excellent jobs.
I’m excited to be connected again to these youth, now as young adults. For many of them, there are still mountains to climb, but I know they are civically minded and active in their communities.
Not only will they vote on Election Day, but they’ll also encourage their friends to vote.
That’s exactly what we need to do – help register our friends and family and then motivate and mobilize them to vote in November.
That’s why I’m organizing local voter registration teams. You can register to vote or join our efforts at: www.TonyThurmond.com/register
One of the best ways to celebrate the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act is to help our friends and neighbors register to vote Find out more at www.TonyThurmond.com
Tony Thurmond is a candidate for the state Assembly District 15.