Marta Steele and Jesse Jackson

In a small press room on the fourth floor of the Cannon House building, an oversized crowd heard Revs. Jesse Jackson and Lennox Yearwood, joined by members of the newly formed (see ) Congressional Voting Rights Caucus, and others, including Terri O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW). The subject was the insidious disappearance of voting rights, including the relevant legislation, and what we can do to reverse it.

Barbara Arnwine moderated the event with energetic enthusiasm. This former executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights under Law, now presides over the Transformative Justice Coalition, which she recently founded.

Convened by Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX-33), the press conference commemorated the third anniversary of the Shelby County v. HolderSupreme Court decision that dismantled key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Its purpose was to "answer . . . the call to protect and restore the right to vote for every U.S. citizen," [by] "demanding immediate action on voting rights legislation," including Rep. Hank Johnson's (D-GA-4) VOTE Act (H.R. 5131), Sen. Jim Sensenbrenner's (R-WI-5) Bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act (H.R. 885), and Rep. Terri Sewell's (D-AL-7) Voters' Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 2867 / S. 1659), none of which has reached the House floor for discussion.

The press conference coincidentally convened the morning after the congressional sit-in, led by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA-5), whose goal is to force a vote on legislation aimed at regulating the sale of firearms through background checks. Several of the Representatives present today had participated in the sit-in.

Press conference speakers referred to the sit-in as yet another form of suppression of large percentage of the people's will, according to polls taken across all political persuasions.

Acknowledging attendees who had flown in from as far away as New York, Chicago, and Mexico, Veasey first discussed the Twenty-Fourth Amendment, which prohibited poll tax, and quickly turned to its nemesis, the voter ID requirement which, even where advertised as free, inevitably costs both money and time, making the most disadvantaged citizens of this country struggle and often fail to exercise their Constitutional right to vote.

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY-13), reminiscing about the racism of times before the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts had been passed in the mid-1960s, noted that such times have returned, with last night's sit-in the latest reminder. Saluting Rev. Jesse Jackson, he said he was glad that we've begun to fight again.

Rep. Phil Roe (D-TN-1) told attendees that his father, a civil rights attorney, had helped to author the text of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He reminisced about prior decades in which bipartisan legislation was the norm rather than an aberration; we must be even more vigilant to be sure that the rights of all are valued and honored rather than continuously blocked.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, next to speak to a resounding welcome, took listeners through a history of the voting rights movement from 1880 to 1940, stressing that Jim Crow was worse than slavery, because in the latter case slave owners protected their workers from the lynchings that followed with the onset of the Jim Crow era.

In 2013, he said, the South complained about the "excessive government oversight" entailed by sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act. With the demolition of these sections, Election 2016 will represent the first time racist states' repressive innovations since Shelby v. Holder (2013) will be enforced.

More leadership is needed to protect the rights of all to vote. Jackson challenged his listeners with the idea of a Slavery Day, to commemorate this crime.

Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL-7) agreed, with the chant "No vote, no voice!" noting the importance of honoring the foot soldiers of the never-ending struggle for voters' rights.

Reviewing criteria for the preclearance requirement, formerly the heart of the VRA, she recalled that the act had been reauthorized by Republicans Ford, Reagan, and Bush and expressed how shameful the partisan behavior of today's GOP is by comparison. Where millions of Americans lack voter ID, many because they can't afford the time or money, "it is unacceptable for us to sit back in silence."

She expressed amazement that the demand to vote coming from 180 unanimous Democrats in the House was being ignored.

Rev. Lennox Yearwood, head of the nonprofit and nonpartisan Hip-Hop Caucus, began with another chant, "Can't stop, won't stop!" and proceeded to acknowledge both the millennials and "those over 65" in the House of Representatives. "The restoration of voting rights is happening on our watch," he said. A new generation is coming together of many different peoples all with the same goal, to beat "James Crow, Esquire."

The twentieth century fight for equal rights has morphed into a fight for existence in the twenty-first century--for clean air and against rampant gun accidents and disasters; we must restore the VRA, adherence to the Motor Voter Act, and early registration. Will there even be voting rights in 2165? he wondered. Yearwood expressed faith that the millennials will stand up and restore the VRA.

Terri O'Neill, who followed, offered her perspective on this voting crisis: it impacts communities of color the most, but especially the women within them, who have such trouble obtaining their birth certificates because they have married and must in addition produce marriage certificates. Hours that polls are kept open are inconvenient for people who work two jobs and also have child-care responsibilities. When this large segment of the population can't vote, conservatives win, who legislate against women's rights.

"We will not go back! We will move forward!" she said.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson concluded the event by advocating automatic voter registration when students reach age 18 and the requirement that everyone have a birth certificate. Last year's commemorative march should have been to Shelby County, Alabama, rather than to the Pettus Bridge in Selma, he said.

Marta Steele is an author/editor/blogger who has been writing for since 2006. Her original website,, first entered the blogosphere in 2003. She recently became an editor for She has in the past taught college and worked as a full-time as well as freelance reporter. She has been a peace and election integrity activist since 1999. Her undergraduate and graduate educational background are in Spanish, classical philology, and historical and comparative linguistics. Her biography was listed in "Who's Who in the East" in 2000.