Alongside the Alabama Civic Engagement (ACE) Coalition, LDF hosted a community dialogue where litigators connected with community organizers, entrepreneurs, lobbyists, students, and other leaders to discuss collective action.
Many attendees were formerly-incarcerated persons who now lead their own efforts to achieve rights restoration for returning citizens. From their personal experiences, they spoke to the challenges that returning citizens face when attempting to exercise their right to vote in AL.
Alabama isn’t the only state that places nearly insurmountable barriers between returning citizens and the polls. The currently ongoing case to uphold Amendment 4 in FL is another example of the institutional challenges placed upon returning citizens that, when coupled with mass incarceration of people of color, dampen the voting power of entire communities.
LDF hosted an exclusive screening of the film Rigged, which chronicles the wave of voter suppression that followed the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision and 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
Brown Chapel AME Church filled with Selma sojourners from across Alabama and the United States who were eager to learn about suppression tactics and discuss how to combat them.
Sojourners attended the screening and subsequent panel to learn about voting rights protection from civil rights experts.
Watch this brief clip from Rigged, where LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill unpacks the effects of Shelby County.
To learn more about Rigged and watch the full film, visit www.riggedthefilm.com .
Immediately following the screening of Rigged, Representative Terri Sewell welcomed the crowd to her home state of Alabama. In her remarks, Rep. Sewell reminded us that “every generation must fight for the progress we currently have and press forward to continue that progress … it’s okay to get into ‘good trouble.’” Vanita Gupta of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Professor Joyce Vance of the University of Alabama, Sam Levine of The Guardian, and LDF client Raquel Wright then began a panel led by LDF Deputy Director of Litigation Leah Aden. Each expert identified the most salient voting rights issues we must attack from their respective perspectives and then shared actions that voters can take to enact change. Check out highlights from the panel here. LDF President and Director-Counsel, Sherrilyn Ifill, delivered a moving speech honoring Rep. John Lewis, who was on the front lines of Bloody Sunday and who has not stopped fighting for civil rights since. She summoned the crowd to give 20 seconds of applause to honor his work and lift up his health and well-being.
Finally, the session was closed out by captivating closing remarks from Reverend Dr. William A. Barber II. Rev. Dr. Barber implored us to look past the rhetoric that is being used to divide one community from another. He drove home the idea that we must come together and use our democratic power to make positive change.
The community was invited to the Unity Reception to break bread, connect, and network immediately following the event.
This year, the Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King Unity Breakfast honored a remarkably special handful of civil rights leaders: attorney and advocate Stacey Abrams, Martin Luther King III and his family, and global women’s rights activist Leymah Gbowee. Ms. Abrams reminded attendees that voting rights organizing work of the 60s is not yet over – and that we must stay vigilant and keep organizing.
Closing remarks were delivered by LDF President and Director-Counsel, Sherrilyn Ifill. “In this time in our country when we face a dangerous moment for democracy, it’s critical we remember how this democracy was transformed,” Ms. Ifill said. “It was transformed by ordinary people, & their willingness & determination to make this country recognize us as full citizens.” She urged every person in the room to take three actions: familiarize themselves with all of the initiatives on the ballot, elect local leadership, and hold local leaders accountable. Ms. Ifill went on to explain that it is critical to be an informed voter about every elected role on the ballot, “not just the ones at the top of the ballot.”
Brown Chapel AME Church was the location that Bloody Sunday marchers, including Representative John Lewis, departed from, not knowing that they would face ruthless police violence on the other end of the Edmund Pettus bridge.
Pastor Strong led a Sunday service with a recurring message — vote. Vote in every election. Vote in every race. Vote on every issue. Deputy Director of Litigation Leah Aden also delivered a moving tribute to Judge John P. Nixon, an ally to the civil rights movement. She underscored the need for more non-Black allies like him in this moment – ones who are willing to sacrifice everything for equality.
LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill then spoke to urge community members and sojourners to lift up Rep. John Lewis’ health and carry on his legacy by being informed, active voters. Watch her remarks.
In this time, it is imperative we continue to pay homage to the 600 unarmed men, women, and children who were on the front lines in the fight for voting rights on March 7, 1965, otherwise known as “Bloody Sunday.”
Early in 1965, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference made Selma, Alabama the focus of its efforts to register Black voters in the state. On March 7, protesters attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on their way from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery were assaulted by Alabama state troopers wielding whips, nightsticks, and tear gas. LDF attorneys came to the defense of the foot soldiers in the aftermath of this traumatic event. By litigating and winning Wallace v. Williams, and filing a plan with the federal government, foot soldiers were given federal protection to complete the 54-mile march to Montgomery.
On the final day of the 2020 Selma Jubilee, LDF staff joined thousands of others in honoring the sacrifice of those activists and foot soldiers by crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
The fight for voting rights is far from over. Since the 2013 Shelby County Supreme Court decision that removed the preclearance requirement and effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, voting has become more challenging for many Black voters. But we are not deterred.
LDF has fought for 80 years to fulfill the promise of the full rights of citizenship for all Americans – and we will not stop.