Up to 25,000 protest a wave of restrictive voter ID laws passed in 14 states.
JAISAL NOOR, JOURNALIST: In New York Saturday, thousands marked International Human Rights Day by marching in protest of a wave of new restrictive voter ID laws. They’re already in effect in 14 states. And proponents argue these measures are necessary to prevent voter fraud. But according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which examined 21 new restrictive laws and executive orders, 5 million voters–mostly students, the elderly and people of color–could be prevented from voting in the upcoming 2012 presidential election. Investigative journalist Ari Berman writes, these laws amount to “an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008.” Saturday’s march began at the headquarters of the billionaire right-wing financiers David and Charles Koch, who have bankrolled this push for voter ID laws, and ended at the United Nations. The march was organized by more than 100 civil rights, labor, and religious groups. And the turnout was massive. The march stretched over a mile on Lexington Avenue, and organizers estimate more than 20,000 people participated. Here are some of their voices.
BENJAMIN JEALOUS, PRESIDENT, NAACP: So we started at the Koch brothers, and then we’re marching to the UN. The Koch brothers, through their support of ALEC, for their founding of Americans for Prosperity, have supported the organization that is Johnny Appleseeding these laws across the country and many of the politicians who are pushing them in key states. We’re here at the UN. This is the beacon of human rights in the world. Today is International Human Rights Day. And our democracy is really the foundation, in many ways, for the global human rights movement, and especially our civil rights movement and our voting rights movement. So these attacks aren’t just a threat to democracy here at home; they’re a threat to democracy around the world.
JOSE CALDERON, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, HISPANIC FEDERATION: Yeah. Well, you know, it’s a national movement. And we’ve seen in many states, like Georgia, you know, a lot of states in the South, you know, Nevada, you know, Florida, where they’re really–Mississippi, where they’re trying to, you know, suppress the minority vote. And that’s what it ultimately is about. It’s about Latinos and African-Americans and Asian-Americans and people who–you know, the power structure sees voting one way. And they can’t prevent them from exercising that right, so they want to take it away from them.
BRENDA WILLIAMS: I come from the state of South Carolina. We are currently fighting the voter ID bill at the level of the Justice Department, mainly because over 250,000 people in our state alone will be disenfranchised based on the fact that South Carolina is demanding that all citizens have a government-issued photo identification card before they vote.
LEROY GADSON, NAACP-NY: People like Medgar Evers [incompr.] those persons died for the right to vote. They gave their life. And so right now we are trampling on their death. Their death is in vain if we sit back and sit still and we allow these rich folks, these Koch brothers, to finance a campaign of hate to turn back the right to vote. We are [incompr.] as a people. We are the only people in America that we had–our ancestors were killed for the right to vote. We had our lives taken. We had our property taken. So we’re not going to sit back and be silent and watch the Koch brothers and other like-minded-thinking people come back and take our right to vote.
LUCY: I lived through it one time in Virginia, I won’t live through it again, that we weren’t allowed to walk on the same side of the street as white folks, we weren’t allowed to vote, we weren’t allowed to shop in the nicest shops. And they’re going to try to bring this mess back again? I’ll say like Patrick Henry, give me liberty or give me death. I won’t do it again. We will vote. All of us, we will stand together, black and white and poor people. The rich people don’t like it, but I don’t care.
WILLIAMS: All people definitely do not have access to getting government-issued photo identification. As I mentioned, as a physician of 30 years, my husband and I have had the privilege, honor, and pleasure of treating tens of thousands of people, most of whom are senior citizens. Our experience has been that a significant proportion of those individuals do not have and never have had photo identification.
NOOR: The NAACP and other civil rights organizations are demanding the federal government overturn restrictive voter laws ahead of the the 2012 presidential election. The Justice Department says several of the new laws are being reviewed for their compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Reporting for FSRN and The Real News, this is Jaisal Noor in New York.
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