Good morning to everyone joining in this unity breakfast named after Dr. and Mrs. King and to commemorate the anniversary of the march in Selma.
I know this is the first commemoration of Bloody Sunday without Reverend C.T. Vivian,
Reverend Joseph Lowery, and Congressman John Lewis. Preachers of the social gospel. Architects of the ‘Beloved Community,’ they built not only with words but with action. And reminders that in our lifetime, for Black Americans, the fundamental right to vote has been denied by white supremacy hiding both behind white hoods and in plain sight in state houses and courtrooms.
Yet those torches and burning crosses, the batons, tear gas, fire hoses, attack dogs, and unfair laws and trials could not stop progress. The blood of John Lewis and hundreds of other brave and righteous souls that was spilled in Selma, on this Sunday in 1965 sanctified a noble struggle.
And when the country saw those images that night, America was forced to confront the denial of democracy — the fierce urgency of justice.
Congress passed the Voting Rights Act a few months later, and President Johnson signed it into law.
The legacy of the march in Selma is that while nothing can stop a free people from exercising
their most sacred power as a citizen, there are those who will do everything they can to take that power away.
The Voting Rights Act began to dismantle barriers to voting and to make our elections more fair, free, and representative.
I was always proud to lead the efforts to reauthorize it over the years as a U.S. Senator in the Judiciary Committee. But at the same time, Republicans at every level have chipped away at it.
Then in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, holding that times have changed and blatant voter discrimination was rare, contrary to the assault that was taking place on the ground. The late Justice Ginsburg wrote that the decision was like “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm.” Today, we have a hail storm, not a rain storm.
And in 2020, our very democracy on the line, even in the midst of a pandemic, more Americans voted than ever before. Multiple recounts in states and decisions in more than 60 courts – from judges appointed by my predecessor, including at the Supreme Court – upheld the integrity of this historic election.
Yet instead of celebrating this powerful demonstration of voting – we have seen an unprecedented insurrection in our Capitol and a brutal attack on our democracy on January 6th. A never before seen effort to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the people.
And to think that it’s been followed by an all-out assault on the right to vote in state legislatures all across the country happening right now. During the current legislative session, elected officials in 43 states have already introduced more than 250 bills to make it harder for Americans to vote. We cannot let them succeed.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021. This is a landmark piece of legislation that is urgently needed to protect the right to vote, the integrity of our elections, and to repair and strengthen our democracy. I hope the Senate does its work so that I can sign it into law.
I also urge Congress to fully restore the Voting Rights Act, named in John Lewis’ honor.
Today, on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I am signing an executive order to make it easier for eligible voters to register to vote and improve access to voting. Every eligible voter should be able to vote and have that vote counted. If you have the best ideas, you have nothing to hide. Let the people vote.
I’ll close with this – a few days before he passed, Jill and I spoke with John, Congressman Lewis.
But instead of answering our concerns about him, “how are you doing, John,” he asked us to stay focused on the work left undone to heal and to unite this nation around what it means to be an American.
That’s the God’s truth. John wouldn’t talk about his pending death or his concerns. He said we just got to get this done.
That we are all created equal. That we all deserve to be treated equally.
On this day of reflection, please, let’s stay focused on the work ahead.
Let’s remember all those who came before us as a bridge to our history so we do not forget its pain, and as a bridge to our future so we never lose our hope.
May God bless their memory. May God bless you all.