ATLANTA—Former Freedom Riders U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and 88–year–old Southern Christian Leadership Conference President C. T. Vivian strode down Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, leading a loud, chanting, singing crowd. A burly white man parked his big American car, adorned with a Romney–Ryan sticker. He emerged, waved, and called to Lewis, “ Hi, John! I love you!”
Lewis replied, “I love you too, my brother.”
Things took on a special flavor here.
Lewis and Vivian were marking the first National Voter Registration Day, joining Georgia Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and David Scott (D-Ga.) and representatives from the League of Women Voters, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Asian American Legal Advocacy Center, the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, and others.
On the steps of the state capitol, Lewis said what he often does, “The right to vote is precious, almost sacred.”
Lewis compared the 34 state voter ID laws to the barriers to voting he met in his youth in Alabama, such as literacy tests and being asked to estimate the number of jelly beans in a jar.
“What would happen if members of Congress—maybe even the president of the United State—showed up at a polling place without an ID? Would they be denied the right to vote?” asked Lewis.
“We must eliminate every barrier and impediment to the electoral process to make voting fair, accessible, and an accurate representation of the will of the people,” said Lewis.
In an interview after the march, Lewis said that he plans to reintroduce his Voter Empowerment Act in next year’s Congress. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) will sponsor a version of it in the Senate this week. The legislation would federalize voting laws and registration deadlines.
“We must eliminate every barrier and impediment to the electoral process to make voting fair, accessible, and an accurate representation of the will of the people.”
—John Lewis, congressman (D-Ga.)
Lewis told the crowd, “Jimmy Carter said it once, ‘It should be easy to vote, as simple and easy as getting a glass of water.’”
“We’re just going to talk a little while here, and then we’re going to walk,” said Lewis. “That’s it, that’s it!” cried several in the crowd.
Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) listed abolitionists and civil rights movement martyrs, from Frederick Douglass to James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.
He said, “All of these white and black people who gave their lives so we could vote. For goodness’s sake, don’t let Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King down. They are looking down from heaven on us, so get out there and vote!” Several people shouted in answer, “That’s right!”
Gus Dixon arrived early and stood near the podium with a video camera so that he could record the event for his six grandchildren. The Tuskegee Institute alumnus passes on the tradition of civic engagement by taking the children with him to the polls.
”The greatest thing is seeing them grow up, when you go into [polling] places and understand the freedom. They love the voting machines,” he said.
The crowd followed Lewis, Vivian, Scott, and Johnson to the Fulton County Voter Registrar’s office, where interim elections chief Sharon Mitchell described the county’s services of mobile free voter ID vans and printed sample ballots for those who are not tech-savvy and sample ballot apps for smartphone users.
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