In a heartfelt op-ed published on Wednesday, President Barack Obama urged Americans to fight for the equality that has slowly eroded since the Voting Rights Act was written into law 50 years ago.
“Congress must restore the Voting Rights Act. Our state leaders and legislature must make it easier — not harder — for more Americans to have their voices heard,” the president wrote in a letter to the editor for The New York Times Magazine. The president wrote the op-ed in part as response to the publication’s cover story recounting efforts to dissolve the law. “Above all, we must exercise our right as citizens to vote, for the truth is that too often we disenfranchise ourselves.”
The president’s letter is part of his recent push to encourage Congress to tackle voting rights legislation, two years after the Supreme Court overturned key portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, punting it back to Congress to rework the formula used to determine which states are forced to get court approval for new voting laws. Mired by gridlock, Congress has not taken up legislation to rework it, leaving the act gutted of its strongest enforcement mechanism. Meanwhile, more than a dozen states have passed new laws that voting rights advocates consider discriminatory.
“These efforts are not a sign that we have moved past the shameful history that led to the Voting Rights Act. Too often, they are rooted in that history,” the president wrote. “They remind us that progress does not come easy, but that it must be vigorously defended and built upon for ourselves and future generations.”
As the nation’s first black president, Obama added a unique and personal voice to the story.
“I am where I am today only because men and women like Rosanell Eaton refused to accept anything less than a full measure of equality. Their efforts made our country a better place,” he wrote. “It is now up to us to continue those efforts.”