In Charlottesville, Virginia, without a doubt, we witnessed a violent display of hatred, racism and antisemitism the likes of which have not been overtly seen in this country for many years. A young woman, Heather Heyer was killed, two state troopers lost their lives and many others were bloodied with serious injuries from the violent attacks. Adding to the tragedy of Charlottesville, the 45th President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump, gave undeniable credence to the rights and voices of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, thereby emboldening them in their actions.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama as a teenager I marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, was jailed, knocked down by fire hoses, and confronted by attacking dogs. Charlottesville was a true flashback to those life changing experiences and the memories of racists and people filled with hate, who were bolstered by the words and actions of George Wallace, then Governor of Alabama and Bull Connor, former Police Commissioner of Birmingham.
Much righteous indignation and condemnation has been heard and expressed from elected officials, clergy, business leaders, civic activists, community leaders and others from many diverse walks of life. All of which are, indeed, gratifying, welcoming and encouraging!
It is now of the upmost importance that we not let the tragedy of Charlottesville, including the exposure of Donald J. Trump’s true character, become simply another horrible moment in our history. I firmly believe that what was experienced in Charlottesville, and the President's response, must serve as a catalyst for change, to accelerate actions which address problems of racism, hatred and antisemitism that have always been seething just below the surface. Racism has been and remains an enduring component of our society, that festers and over time, grows more intractable.
We must now move beyond words of condemnation and take a purposeful and deliberate course of action which transforms the tragedy of this "moment in time" and, as in the words of Heather's mother, "make[s] her death count". As we make Heather’s death count, we are making count the untold numbers of those who have been killed because they dared to take a stand for social justice, civil rights and equality. We are making count the sacrifices that our ancestors made and struggles they encountered getting the right to vote. Yes, we are making count the gains achieved in civil rights, human rights and social justice that must not be retracted.
It is now time to act beyond condemnation and the removal of the statues. As Congress members return this week to Washington, D.C., let them take meaningful action against voter suppression which is discriminatory, racist and hateful. The enactment of proposed legislation, like voter ID laws, will deny citizens, primarily people of color, the right to vote. Over the past 6 years, 25 states have passed laws making it more difficult for people to exercise their fundamental right to vote, and threatening the fabric of our nation’s democracy.
In June, Representatives John Lewis (GA) and Terrell Sewell (AL) introduced the Voters Advancement Act (VAA), a bill that would restore the voting rights protections of the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act, struck down by the 2013 Supreme Court ruling, Shelby vs. Holder. The VAA would place 13 states, which have violated voting rights within the last 25 years, under supervision of the federal government. The bill, which has 188 Democratic cosponsors, has yet to receive any Republican support.
I call upon the congress members, who spoke out against the tragedy of Charlottesville and others, to support the VAA, and all other legislation that ensures the fundamental right to vote. Yes, it is time to put in place meaningful actions "Beyond Words of Condemnation and Removal of Statues". I submit that safeguarding the right to vote is an excellent place to start!
C. Virginia Fields, MSW is the President and CEO of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Inc. and a member of New York State’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force.