If MLK Were Alive Today, He’d Fight For Voting Rights

Photo: (Getty)

Photo: (Getty)

By Jesse Jackson

Today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his memorable “I Have A Dream” speech. His dream wasn’t static.

In 1963, his dream was tearing down the “Cotton Curtain” of legal segregation. That dream was fulfilled when the 1964 Public Accommodation Act ended legal segregation.

When he marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 his dream was to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act, implementing the 15th Amendment, 95 years after its ratification, making it illegal to racially discriminate in voting.


Photo: MLK marching in Selma, Alabama in 1965. (Getty)

In 1966, he went to Chicago to fight for fair and open housing and was met with white resistance and violence. Following his assassination in 1968, even that dream was realized — if not yet fulfilled — with passage of the 1968 Open Housing Act.


Photo: MLK fighting for fair housing in Chicago in 1966. (Getty)

In 1967, his dream was focused on peace. He spoke out against the Vietnam War arguing the bombs being dropped in Vietnam were exploding in America’s cities and undercutting the War on Poverty at home.


Photo: MLK opposing the Vietnam War in 1967. (Getty)

In 1968, Dr. King’s dream was about a “Poor Peoples’ Campaign” focused on the nation’s Capitol and putting an economic floor beneath the poor below which no American could fall.

What would be the content of Dr. King’s “continuing dream” in 2013? Maybe North Carolina best symbolizes what would concern him. The legislature and Governor of North Carolina passed 338 laws this year: lower taxes on the rich; relaxed regulations on business; voter ID laws to suppress minorities and young people; rules to impact abortion choices for women; weakened gun laws; rejected free Medicaid money in Obamacare; ended teacher tenure and cut benefits to the unemployed.

All of which brings me to the Voting Rights Amendment. Prior to becoming President of the United States, Barack Obama, as a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago, began each of his constitutional law classes sharing with his students the surprising fact that a “citizenship or individual right to vote” is not in the Constitution.

Can you believe the U.S. Constitution does not contain a fundamental individual right to vote? That’s why I’m fighting to add a Voting Rights Amendment to the Constitution.

Of the 119 nations electing their public officials using some form of democratic elections, 108 have the right to vote in their constitution. The United States is one of 11 nations — including Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Pakistan, Singapore and the United Kingdom — that doesn’t explicitly contain a citizenship right to vote in its constitution.

Our country has evolved. The 15th, 19th and 26th Amendments outlaw discrimination in voting on the basis of race, sex and age respectively, but doesn’t guarantee all eligible and each individual American an explicit affirmative individual, citizenship or federal right to vote.

Voting rights are important because they are protective of all other rights. That’s why I’m asking you to join me in fighting for a constitutional Voting Rights Amendment. Such an amendment would fulfill the 15th, 19th and 26th Amendments and bring us closer to the more perfect Union we desire.

Understanding these new challenges we have to work together, both young and old, to find solutions that will restore the value of this great nation for all people.

Through the Emerging Leaders Commission, which helps combat the domestic and global issues that affect us today, we launched the #WhatsYourDream initiative, a powerful opportunity to have your voice heard and to identify with your own realization of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. I urge you to join this fight to keep the dream alive by visiting YourDreamYourPledge.com and signing the pledge or by sharing your dream via social media with the hashtag #WhatsYourDream.

Together we will keep hope alive.

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