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OP-ED: No Bridge too Far — Remembering Congressman John Lewis and the Fight Still Ahead

NNPA NEWSWIRE — It comes to this: Americans are being cut out of the process by other Americans. A great victory, fought for on bloody streets and across bloody bridges, a score settled and signed into law all those years ago has been compromised in the courts. Time to despair? Nope. It sounds to me like it’s time again for some good trouble.

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The legendary planners of the 1963 March on Washington meet in New York City in 1963, including (left to right): John Lewis, Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James L. Farmer Jr. and Roy Wilkins. (Photo provided by UAW)

“The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.” — Congressman John Lewis

This month marks the 55th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), one of the most powerful pieces of civil rights legislation in our history. The passage of the VRA into law was the result of decades of struggle and sacrifice and was truly a shining moment in our history.

Unfortunately, the struggle to ensure that all Americans have the right and opportunity to vote not only continues today, we have actually suffered significant losses on this front over the past decade. Some of the most critical protections of the VRA, designed to remove legal barriers at state and local levels that prevented African Americans from voting, were essentially gutted by a devastating 2013 Supreme Court decision. With one stroke of the pen, the Court set us back decades and created an environment where we’ve seen numerous court challenges to voting rights and other legal measures designed to further weaken the protections of the VRA. All resulting in suppression of African American and minorities participating in the process.

Add to this this the fact that many states are imposing strict voter ID laws, cutting voting times, restricting registration, and purging voter rolls. These efforts have kept significant numbers of eligible voters from the polls in recent elections, hitting all Americans, but placing special burdens on racial minorities, poor people and young and old voters.

Adding to these now restored obstacles are new impediments — polling places consolidated in urban areas to make lines longer (and scarier given the poorly contained reach of the deadly coronavirus) and attempts to throw shade on mail-in ballots. Despite the fact that the evidence shows us that absentee voting is safe and secure.

Time for Good Trouble

It comes to this: Americans are being cut out of the process by other Americans.  A great victory, fought for on bloody streets and across bloody bridges, a score settled and signed into law all those years ago has been compromised in the courts. Time to despair? Nope. It sounds to me like it’s time again for some good trouble.

Good trouble was what American hero and Congressman John Lewis called the struggle for this all-important right of every American. Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia, served in the House of Representatives from 1987 until his death last month, spent decades working as an organizer and activist, was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and original freedom rider. He helped organize the March on Washington in lockstep with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and A. Phillip Randolph. He walked into a beating from Alabama state troopers who cracked his head bloody and gassed him along with hundreds of marchers in the cause of voting rights on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965.

He witnessed and rejoiced in the passage of the VRA alongside his fellow freedom marchers and years later, would have to see the Supreme Court decimate the act. Lewis knew that the court’s decision would reopen the door to voter suppression, but he refused to give in to defeat.

Here is what he had to say about our struggle: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

Now, It’s Up to Us

So, I say we cannot afford to let go of making good trouble. When U.S. Senator Doug Jones of Alabama said at Lewis’ memorial service,  “It is the young among us in Alabama and across this nation who can heal what we have failed to heal in our lifetimes, no matter how hard John tried,”  Senator Jones made note that Lewis had been heartened by today’s young activists.

“He confidently looked around and said, ‘All is well,’” said Jones. “‘It is time for the torch to be passed. It is time for me to let go.’”

That torch, brothers and sisters, is for us.

And I would say we have taken hold of it. Today you are seeing it in our protests against police brutality and racism. People standing up for their inherent civil rights. For the right to live, to move about, to vote. You see the numbers and the strength and the outrage.

Today you are seeing it in the House of Representatives, which most recently passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a bill intended to restore the vote to Americans — mostly Black, Latino, and Native Americans — who were disenfranchised by the 2013 decision.

The Voting Rights Advancement Act restores the full protections of the original, bipartisan Voting Rights Act of 1965. It also creates a new coverage formula that applies to all states and addresses measures that have historically been used to discriminate against voters.

A time for action, not despair
Predictably, full passage has been stalled in the Senate, but “our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year,” right?  We are fighting the long fight and making good trouble.  And we need to see the numbers and the strength and the outrage at the polls.

In a few months, we will be voting in one of the most important elections of our time. You need to make your voice count. Make it count in spite of those who would stop you. Voting is necessary to make the real change we need in this country. We must unite and come together to elect leaders who are committed to reform and to working people. The only way to do that is to vote.

More than 30 states have approved ballot initiatives to allow absentee voting without an excuse.  Check out your situation in your state and however you choose to vote, please make your voice heard this November.

Those who read my column know that I am a union man. I can say unequivocally as far as the UAW is concerned, we are not new to John Lewis’ fight. For decades, the UAW has fought alongside freedom marching men and women to ensure that individual rights are honored.

At a time when far too many eligible voters are wrongly turned away from the polls – or simply don’t have access to them – we must rededicate ourselves to increasing participation among eligible voters.

John Lewis said at the 1963 March on Washington in front of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and UAW President Walter Reuther, “I appeal to all of you to get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation.  Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is complete.”

In that idea, Congressman Lewis is still right here standing before more bridges that need crossing. Only by voting, can we get to the other side.

President, UAW

Ray Curry was elected President of the UAW on June 28, 2021 by the International Executive Board upon the retirement of UAW President Rory L. Gamble. Curry officially assumed the office of president on July 1, 2021 and will serve out the remainder of the term until June 2022. Elected UAW Secretary-Treasurer at the 37th Constitutional Convention in June 2018, Curry was instrumental in implementation of broad financial ethics reforms and oversight as part of the UAW’s Ethics Reforms Initiative.

Curry was elected Director of UAW Region 8 in June 2014 at the 36th UAW Constitutional Convention in Detroit after having served four years as the region’s assistant director.

As Region 8 director, Curry was instrumental in securing new labor agreements with various parts suppliers. In July 2015, under his leadership, the region successfully organized the first gaming bargaining unit of Region 8 as part of a coalition of four other unions to represent the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore, Maryland. In October 2017, the combined coalition reached its first individual collective bargaining agreements. UAW Local 17 represents the table dealers. Under Curry’s leadership, the region also won an election for representation at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, in June 2018, bringing 1,250 new members into the union.

A North Carolina native and military veteran, Curry served three years on active duty in the U.S. Army and five years in the U.S. Army Reserve.

He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration / Finance. He holds a Master of Business Administration, MBA, degree from the University of Alabama.

Curry joined the UAW in July 1992, when he was hired as a truck assembler at Freightliner Trucks in Mount Holly, North Carolina, (now Daimler Trucks, NA) and later became a quality assurance inspector. He remained in that position until 2004. He served on the local’s civil rights committee and as a delegate for the area A. Philip Randolph Chapter. From 1998 to 2004, UAW Local 5285 members elected him to serve in numerous leadership positions, including as UAW Constitutional Convention delegate, chairman of the trustees, financial secretary-treasurer and alternate committeeperson. He also served as chairman of the UAW North Carolina State Political Action Committee, executive board vice president of the North Carolina AFL-CIO and as a UAW member organizer on the 2003 and 2004 Freightliner organizing drives in Cleveland, Gastonia and High Point, North Carolina.

In October 2004, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger appointed him as an International representative assigned to Region 8. His assignment as a servicing representative included aerospace, automotive (Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors facilities), heavy truck, and numerous automotive supplier locations in Alabama and Tennessee. He was responsible for collective bargaining, arbitration, organizing, political action and other bargaining-unit assignments. In June 2010, he was appointed Region 8 assistant director by then–Region 8 Director Gary Casteel.

Curry was elected as a 2012 Democratic National Convention alternate delegate on behalf of the state of Tennessee and later became a full voting delegate at the convention.

He is the 2017 recipient of the A. Philip Randolph Leon Lynch Lifetime Achievement Award, 2017 recipient of the Tennessee State AFL-CIO Presidential Award, the 2018 PR Latta Rank and File Award from the North Carolina AFL-CIO, as well as the 2019 National Newspaper Press Association’s National Leadership Award.

A longtime grassroots activist, Curry is a member of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, a Silver Life member of the NAACP, and member of the national NAACP Board of Directors. He is also an active member of numerous community and social organizations including but not limited to the Michigan State Democratic Party, American Legion Post 177 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Unique Masonic Lodge #85, Charlotte Consistory #35, and Rameses Temple #51 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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