The NAACP’s “Journey for Justice” began in Selma, Ala., on August 1. The march is scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C. on September 15, followed by an “advocacy day” at the Capitol on September 16. NAACP national president Cornell Brooks has walked much of the first 330 miles himself, inspiring hundreds to join in the march for at least a day. The journey is designed to focus on four key issue areas – our votes, lives, jobs and schools.
On one level the Journey’s goals are modest – reenactment of the Voting Rights Act, criminal justice reform that addresses the killings of unarmed African Americans, full and sustainable employment, and a commitment to good public education at all levels. But in today’s America, much like that of 50 years ago, these modest goals require both a mass movement and massive reform of our democracy.
The Democracy Initiative (DI), a coalition of 60 national organizations, is one of the co-sponsors of the Journey. The NAACP is one of the 4 original conveners of the Democracy Initiative and Cornell Brooks is one of the six executive board members. Along with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCHR), the DI is cosponsoring the advocacy day in Washington on September 16. That’s when marchers and delegations from these organizations will ask members of Congress what they are going to do to end business as usual, reenact voting rights, and take up legislation from the three other issue groups.
When Dr. King was murdered in 1968, he was organizing a similar march and developing a populist movement designed to link the issues of economic and racial justice. The Journey promises to recapture that spirit in these increasingly critical times. Marchers are currently headed through Georgia before entering the Carolinas. Teach-ins occur almost daily across the region – including one recently in Raleigh, N.C., where the North Carolina NAACP is suing the state’s governor in federal court for violating what remains of the Voting Rights Act.
North Carolina has turned back the clock on voting rights in the last few years, enacting new barriers to registration and limiting voting access in every possible way. For two years the Moral Mondays movement, which is led by North Carolina NAACP president Reverend William Barber, has mobilized tens of thousands of people to its cause. That energy will join the journey when it comes to N.C. in two weeks.
Marchers walk about 20 miles on a typical day, talking about the issues with each other and with onlookers along the way. Some congregations offer places to sleep at night, while others offer food and water.
On June 25th the NAACP, the Leadership Conference and the Democracy Initiative rallied in Roanoke, Va., to demand that House Judiciary chair Robert Goodlatte hold hearings on the two voting rights bills stalled in his committee. Goodlatte represents Roanoke. Local citizens and national leaders were there to tell him that he would be held accountable for preventing consideration of voting rights just as he had previously on immigration reform.
More than 30 million members belong to the organizations represented by the Democracy Initiative and the Leadership Conference. Environmental, labor, community, immigrant rights, LGBTQ, civil rights and democracy groups – all are working together on voting rights, money in politics and other obstacles to democratic change. The challenge for the September 16th advocacy day and beyond is this: Can we mobilize millions for real reform, or are we stuck in the much smaller silos that define our core issues?
For the past 10 years, impediments to democracy have prevented congressional action on issues ranging from economic justice to climate change. And yet all too often we keep talking as if we simply need to convince more people on our varied issues. That’s not enough. Unless we enact reform that provides easy access for all voters, we will continue to miss 30 million voters from working families. If we don’t root out big money in politics, the oligarchy of the wealthy will increasingly control our government.
Voting rights, and the other three issue areas on the Journey for Justice platform, provide a good basis for this discussion as the presidential race heats up. With 500 miles to go, and a large gathering at the Capitol on September 16, the days and weeks ahead should provide more focus for the movement-building we so clearly need.