Kathy Castor of Tampa will be of one of approximately 100 members of Congress who will participate in the 50th anniversary of the march on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma AL this weekend. The original march on the Edmund Pettis Bridge was one of the crucial civil rights marches that led to the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“I’m very honored to be making that trip with my colleague and civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis of Atlanta,” Castor declared, repeating the story of how Lewis was savagely beaten by state troopers for marching on what is known as “Bloody Sunday,” the march led by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and depicted in the Oscar nominated film Selma that was released in January.
Castor said she will be marching with Chloe Coney, one of her local aides in her West Tampa staff office. And there will be two buses carrying approximately 100 people leaving Tampa for Alabama on Friday night, including 11 kids, says Yvette Lewis, Hillsborough County NAACP Political Action Chair.
Members from Congress have been making the annual trek to the Pettis Bridge for years, but according to USA Today, this year’s group includes the largest number of Republicans to participate in the pilgrimage since the first one was held in 1998.
Officials at today’s press conference used the occasion to note how much work still needs to be done when it comes to voting in America.
“In the state of Florida, about 25 percent of the African-American voting age population remains disenfranchised because of the bureaucracy built up at the state level, in having your rights restored,” Castor said, adding what really happens in effect is that those voting rights are never restored for a certain proportion of those people. “They say ‘yes, you can apply, you can go before the governor and the Cabinet to ask for your rights to be restored,’ but when you look at the numbers over the last couple of years, so few have been granted civil rights restoration. In effect, it’s simply a bar to the voting booth.”
That’s why a coalition of groups ranging from the ACLU to the NAACP are working on collecting signatures for a 2016 constitutional amendment to be placed on the ballot that would allow for the automatic restoration of rights to nonviolent ex-felons.
Another issue that has voting rights advocates concerned is the fact that there hasn’t been much movement in Congress to respond to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. In a 5-4 vote, the court declared it was time to update the section, which determined which states and localities with a history of minority voter suppression had to clear changes to their voting laws with the Justice Department. The justices left it up to Congress to come up with a new formula for designating which regions of the country require special scrutiny.
The Voting Rights Amendment Act was introduced in the House last month by Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner and Michigan Democrat John Conyers. But it was also introduced last year and never made it out of committee. “Unfortunately we haven’t seen any movement at all,” bemoaned Castor about that legislation.
And she used that reluctance to act carte blanche to blast the Republicans in D.C.:
“The record of this new Congress here in the first few months has been awful,” she declared. “They’re caught up in these ideological battles. We’re still stuck here this week wondering about the fate of the Department of Homeland Security by the end of this week. ….when you spend weeks and weeks on things that aren’t moving America forward, it doesn’t bode well for the Voting Rights reauthorization. But that doesn’t mean you give up. The people who marched in Selma and were participants of the civil rights movement in the late ’50s and 1960 didn’t give up. So there’s no way we can give up, either.”
Both Castor and Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick reminded the press and the group of folks around them that, in fact, tomorrow is Election Day in Tampa. Although there were people killed back during the civil rights era to allow blacks freer access to the polling booth, Reddick acknowledged that there will be too many voters who intend to stay home and not vote on Tuesday.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn is running unopposed on the ballot, but Jose Vazquez is running as a write-in candidate. And there are five City Council races on the ballot, including three city-wide.