WASHINGTON, D.C. – Days after declaring a State of Emergency for democracy in the United States, the nation’s top civil rights leaders met with President Biden at the White House today to urge the administration to embolden voting rights, improve economic opportunities, and advance civil rights.
On Sunday, the 59th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, these leaders delivered a call to action for all Americans to protect the right to vote. This essential American right is undoubtably under its greatest threat since the Jim Crow era, which sparked the first historic 1963 march. At the White House today, these leaders laid out how Americans face the same issues now as they did decades ago and urged the President to take swift action in the coming year.
The meeting was attended by leaders of the National Urban League, National Action Network (NAN), the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, NAACP, Legal Defense Fund, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).
Janai Nelson, Legal Defense Fund President and Director-Counsel, said:
“As President Biden powerfully stated in last night’s address: we are fighting for the soul of the nation. That fight requires honest soul searching about how we got here. The myth of white supremacy, which has undermined and overpowered our democracy since its inception, must be eliminated root and branch. And we must seize this moment of promise to do just that. This requires Americans to elect a Congress that will advance the constitutional ideals of justice, equality, and democracy. The dual threats of voter suppression and election sabotage mean that none of us can take our right to vote for granted. It’s absolutely imperative that every individual and every community who is dedicated to furthering the gains we’ve made commits to participating in the November elections. It is equally imperative that every state and federal actor works to protect the right to vote and remove obstacles to voting, especially those that target and disenfranchise Black voters. That is the only way forward.”
Marc H. Morial, National Urban League President and CEO, said:
“The anti-democracy wave that began to rise after record-high Black voting rates in 2008 and crested with the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder to gut the Voting Rights Act has now broken against ‘The Big Lie.’ Radical state and federal lawmakers, openly coordinating with violent extremists on a campaign of suppression intimidation, are dangerously close to dismantling American democracy and establishing autocratic rule. President Biden dramatically drew the line between ‘the light of truth’ and ‘the shadow of lies’ during his speech in Philadelphia yesterday, and we as civil rights leaders are ready to work with his administration to guide the nation toward the light. The fierce backlash against racial justice and equal opportunity is born of fear and ignorance, and only a clear-eyed reckoning of reality can overcome it.”
Rev. Al Sharpton, National Action Network President and Founder, said:
“The persistent disintegration of voting rights and the urgent need for fundamental reform around policing and criminal justice will continue to be our clarion call until demonstration is turned into legislation and every American has equal access to jobs, voting and the protection of our fundamental rights. We urge Washington to fulfill the same dream that was sought 59-years-ago this week at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The anniversary of this inflection point was the reason we sought a meeting with the President to highlight the alarming rollback of civil rights in this country.”
Melanie Campbell, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation President and CEO, and convener, of the Black Women’s Roundtable, said:
“Earlier this week, we recognized the 59th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Justice, a collective response fight racism, hatred and repression that had plagued and terrorized Black people for decades, and the impact it had in ushering in historic civil rights, voting rights and fair housing legislation in the 1960s. Today, we find our rights and freedoms once again under attack. Racist and white nationalists threaten our democracy, and the U. S. Supreme Court and state lawmakers are rolling back voting rights, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ+ rights. Today I shared with President Biden that Black people, especially Black women and families, have not fully recovered economically from the COVID-19 global pandemic; and the critical need to address gun violence and policing reform to ensure Black communities are safe. Further, Black women, who drive Black voter turnout and serve as the majority of poll workers in Black communities, are extremely concerned about the threat of white nationalist intimidation at the polls. We urge the Biden-Harris Administration to do all within their power to protect voters and poll workers to ensure their safety when they go to the polls for the 2022 Mid-Term Election across the country.”
Derrick Johnson, NAACP President and CEO, said:
“Somehow, in the year 2022, equality and justice remain out of reach for Black communities across America. The disparities facing our community are stark – just look at the catastrophe unfolding in my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, where more than a hundred thousand people, the majority of whom are Black, are without safe access to drinking water for the foreseeable future. This crisis is the direct result of the failures of politicians who have put party and politics over the issues that will help people in communities like Jackson, Mississippi, Flint, Michigan, and the many other majority Black cities that have been left behind for too long. We need elected officials who will put people over politics and will address issues that impact communities of color. With only two months to go until the November election, officials looking to win our votes must show they are with us, and they will fight for us.”
Damon Hewitt, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law President and Executive Director, said:
“In 2020 we hoped that we were experiencing a long overdue, mass racial reckoning in this country. However, for the past two years we have found ourselves in a sharp, deeply harmful reversal of this momentum. Our Democracy is being threatened by draconian state laws, conspiracy theories, economic insecurity, racism, and hate. We need to pass meaningful, expansive voting rights legislation for Black Americans and other communities of color facing unprecedented threats of voter suppression and election subversion. We must resist the effort to bypass accountability concerns and blindly invest in law enforcement in the same communities that have experienced police brutality, taking us back to the ‘tough on crime’ policies of a generation ago that inevitably lead to the over-incarceration of Black and Brown communities. We must create pathways to economic prosperity in communities of color, both urban and rural. We must advance a whole-of-society approach to addressing white supremacist violence–always demanding justice, but also going beyond law enforcement responses to the nation’s number one domestic threat. And we must ensure that the civil rights protections we’ve fought for apply in every sphere of public and private life, including online, where so many of us live our lives nowadays. I look forward to our continued work alongside the Biden administration on these and other efforts that are necessary to build the future we deserve.
Maya Wiley, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights President and CEO, said:
“The civil rights movement fought hard and suffered unimaginable sacrifices to ensure that ‘we the people’ includes all of us – from the ballot box to the job, and in the classroom. We made real progress which has scared some and been manipulated by others to roll back our rights. But we are resolute in the face of white supremacy, extremism, and fear to fight for voting rights, worker’s rights, abortion access, fair courts, and a just economy. We applauded the president’s speech calling this nation to defend democracy, which is a fight we, as Black people, have fought from the front lines for generations. And democracy is on the ballot this November. We told the president that the stakes are high, for Black people, as they are for all people of color, women of all races, and LGBTQ people. We told the president we need the full force of the federal government to protect each and every voter from political violence, intimidation, and barriers. We can’t allow the white supremacist forces who want to deny us our basic human freedoms to win.”
Dr. Thelma Thomas Daley, National Council of Negro Women National President and Chair, said:
“Public education is the bedrock of our society, and it is currently crumbling and in need of repair. Teachers are leaving the profession. In 2020, school enrollment sunk to its lowest level since 1943. This drop directly impacts funding for public schools, student performance, and the prospect that many children will be left behind. And at the same time, schools are having difficulty hiring and retaining qualified teachers and support staff. An enlightened citizenry is the best guarantee of democracy. The Legal Defense Fund, the NAACP and NCNW were formed in response to blatant official disregard of democratic principles. We must do in our day what our founders did in theirs – band together to promote free and fair elections, the rule of law and equal opportunity to achieve the American dream. History will hold us accountable and future generations deserve nothing less.”