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Rep. John Lewis Speaking Out at Voting Rights Rally

June 22, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Rep. John Lewis will use these prepared remarks today at the SPEAKOUT rally on the East Lawn of the U.S. Capitol at 10:30 AM.  He joins other members of the Democratic leadership, other colleagues, and activists in an effort to persuade this Congress to repair the Voting Rights Act.  Hailed as the most effective voting access tool this nation has ever employed, the heart of the act—the formula used to apply its power to state electoral systems—was gutted by an ill-conceived U.S. Supreme Court decision.  Congress has the ability to repair what was damaged.  Several legislative proposals have been introduced which could do so, including the Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Democracy Restoration Act.   This rally is meant to spur Congress to take action on these issues before the next national election. These are the prepared remarks Rep. Lewis will use today.

I want to thank the Democratic Leadership and Rep. Terri Sewell for bringing us together today to demand that this Congress do what is necessary to repair the Voting Rights Act.

The vote is precious, almost sacred.  It is the most powerful tool we have in a democratic society, and every citizen should be able to use it without interference.  

Never forget that those who marched from Selma to Montgomery, Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner, and James Chaney were just ordinary people with an extraordinary vision for our country.  The progress their sacrifice ushered in was not preordained.  Their courage was not divine or innate.  They made a choice to take action.

That is the same choice you are making here today—to stand up and speak out for what is right.  Make no mistake.  You are the civil rights heroes of today.  You are the freedom fighters of today.  And your courage will determine the direction of this country.

Dr. King once wrote that “progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability.”  Progress is something you must fight for and defend.  That’s as true today as it’s been.

No stroke of luck will protect a free and fair democracy in our country.  We have to do it.  You must use your power to make those who are inclined to say no…..more inclined to say yes.  

Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney and others had to give their lives.  Today you need only give your time and your energy to protect democracy in America.  The power is in your hands.   Use that power to make it plain.  We will never go back.  We’re moving forward.  We will struggle and win a free and fair democracy in America.  Thank you.

June 21, 1964, was the date of the disappearance of Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner and James Chaney at the start of the Mississippi Freedom Summer, an event hosted by the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) then chaired by Rep. Lewis.  Its purpose was to demonstrate the dire need for national voting rights legislation by engaging college students from around the country to come to Mississippi during the summer and experience the challenges of voter registration.  During the first days of the summer, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner went out to investigate the burning of a black church used for voter education.  They were arrested enroute and released by the sheriff into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan.  They were found later beaten, shot, and killed in a swamp in Mississippi.

Please be advised that Rep. Lewis will use these remarks as a guide and may well make other extemporaneous comments.