Black Voters Matter is taking what the organization is calling a Freedom Ride for Voting Rights. The education and outreach campaign aims to increase support for voting rights legislation, advocate for D.C. statehood and build Black voting power.
Beginning on Juneteenth (this Saturday, June 19), the group will board its coach, dubbed the “Blackest Bus in America,” for a voter outreach tour from Jackson, Mississippi to Washington D.C. They will make stops in Southern states such as Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina to rally with partner organizations and concerned citizens and discuss the issues impacting their communities.
BVM previously announced the new initiative in May to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the historic Freedom Rides, organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Led by CORE’s then-director James Farmer, 13 young interracial riders participated. Among them was the late Georgia Congressman John Lewis, and young women such as Genevieve Hughes, Mae Frances Moultrie and Joan Trumpauer Mullholland.
Cliff Albright and LaTosha Brown, co-founders of Black Voters Matter, spoke recently with ESSENCE by phone about their 21st century “freedom ride” mission.
“With state legislatures actively working to undermine our rights and strip us of our most basic freedoms, the parallels to Juneteenth are uncanny,” said Brown. “Every bill to suppress votes, criminalize protests, and weaken Black power is a reminder of the enduring history of slavery in this country.”
“But we are launching this Freedom Ride for Voting Rights on Juneteenth alongside local and national partners to show voters, communities, and elected officials of how far we’ve come and remind them what Black power can do,” she said.
More than 40 states, such as Arizona, New Hampshire, and Georgia, have introduced hundreds of Republican-sponsored bills that critics say restrict and/or limit voting access. More than a dozen measures have passed, including a law in Georgia that would require that absentee voters get their ballots signed by a witness and include a copy of their ID—something critics say is designed to deter voting.
Stacey Abrams, founder of Fair Fight Action, and former First Lady Michelle Obama who created the nonpartisan When We All Vote initiative, are among the advocates nationwide who’ve warned of dire ramifications if the nation’s voting rights are not protected.
President Joe Biden signed a March 7 executive order aimed at promoting voting access. The order leverages the resources of the federal government to help increase access to voter registration services, information about voting and more. The President recently announced Vice President Kamala Harris would take charge of a new, intensified campaign on this issue, signifying its vital importance to this administration.
Bills pending before Congress include the For the People Act to safeguard critical protections and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act which will re-establish federal oversight to guard against racial discrimination in voting. Both have passed the House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate.
This week, U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland delivered a policy address on voting rights and the concrete steps the department is taking to secure the fundamental right to vote for all Americans. He said they would include doubling the staff of its Civil Rights Division, now led by Assistant Attorney General, Kristen Clarke. She is the first Black woman in the role.
“Nearly two and a half centuries into our experiment of ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people,’ we have learned much about what supports a healthy democracy,” Garland said in his remarks. “We know that expanding the ability of all eligible citizens to vote is the central pillar. That means ensuring that all eligible voters can cast a vote; that all lawful votes are counted; and that every voter has access to accurate information.” He pledged that “The Department of Justice will never stop working to protect the democracy to which all Americans are entitled.”
BVM has partnerships with more than 30 national civil rights and racial justice organizations as part of its Freedom Ride, including: Advancement Project; Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; The Working Families Party; Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project; Black Church PAC; National Coalition on Black Civic Participation; Black Women’s RoundTable; Until Freedom; Make it Plain; Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; Transformative Justice Coalition; People for the American Way, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center. Multiple allies are expected to join the Freedom Ride along the way–organizers expect a caravan of buses in some states–to offer organizational support.
Barbara Arwine, Esq., president and Founder of the Transformative Justice Coalition, said this Freedom Ride builds upon the (May 8) John Lewis May National Day of Action.
“It was an opening salvo in the people’s pushback against the vicious assault on our voting rights coming from state legislatures,” Arnwine said in a statement. “This will be a major journey enlisting tens of thousands of Americans to raise their voices demanding that the U.S. Congress fulfill its responsibility to protect our voting rights.”
The Freedom Ride’s local rallies, community events and press conferences, will stream live on BVM’s Youtube channel.