Dana World-Patterson, founder and CEO of Foundations for Freedom, challenged those in attendance to “continue to stir the pot to keep hope alive. Let’s audaciously dream.”
“The right to vote is to agree that everyone matters,” she said, to a crowd that included people wearing shirts reading “Black Votes Matter” and “You Have the Right to Not Remain Silent.”
The event hosted members of the community and others to honor the fight for an inclusive multiracial democracy. Speakers — including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Wisconsin Congresswoman Gwen Moore and more — addressed the importance of voting rights and equality in America.
The crowd was enthusiastic, responding with applause and positive remarks. Many of them rose to their feet, whooping and cheering as the speakers shared their impassioned messages.
Moore recalls the ‘jelly beans test’
Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-Fourth District) took the stage to reflect on what Black Americans were required to do to vote before the Voting Rights Act was adopted in 1965.
Moore recalled that before she took her 18-year-old granddaughter to vote for the first time, she handed her a jar of jelly beans and asked her how many were in the jar. Moore said she was met with confusion.
“Baby, this was what we used to have to do to vote,” Moore explained.
She brought up the “jelly bean test” used during the Jim Crow era to remind the crowd of what Black voters endured before they were granted explicit voting rights.
“This is a war for what the rights of this country stand for,” Moore said.
Other Wisconsin leaders also participated.
Gov. Tony Evers and Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin sent pre-recorded videos.
“Folks, the right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and ensuring every eligible voter has the right to cast a ballot shouldn’t be a partisan or political issue,” Evers said in his video statement.
Baldwin agreed. “These attacks (on voting rights) are un-American,” she said. “And we should be making it easier for Americans to vote — not harder.”
Still fighting for justice
Betty Boynton was only 15 in 1965 when she crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, to march for voting rights. Nearly 60 years later, she continues to fight as a voting rights foot soldier and shared her story at the Milwaukee rally.
“I was ready for justice,” Boynton said. “I was brave; I wanted to be free.”
She recalled being tear-gassed and thrown in jail after marching on “Bloody Sunday,” an event that helped lead to the Voting Rights Act.
“I’m still on the battlefield; I’m still fighting for justice,” Boynton said.
Jackson: ‘Lives depend on a vote’
Another still fighting for justice is Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a highly anticipated speaker at the event.
Jackson worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and is a longtime civil rights activist who has fought for voting justice.
“I am somebody,” he said in his opening remarks. “I am somebody. I am somebody.”
He encouraged people to “vote with determination” because “lives depend on a vote.”
Touching on the current political climate, Jackson stated that ” (President Joe) Biden would not have won without our vote,” referring to the Black community. He added that Biden “can’t win without our vote” in the 2024 presidential election.
Jackson proclaimed that Black citizens have endured “phases of struggle” in America, the first being slavery, followed by Jim Crow voting laws.
He said that the struggle against racism and suppression has continued, and he encouraged people to keep fighting.
The family of Ahmaud Arbery speaks out
In 2020, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, was murdered while jogging in Satilla Hills, Georgia. On Saturday, his father, Marcus Arbery, spoke about the loss of his son and why the fight for racial equity is not over.
Arbery joined the event via a live broadcast.
Saying it’s “still a hard time for our family,” Arbery added that he and his family are fighting on their son’s behalf.
They have created The Ahmaud Arbery Foundation, which has teamed with the Transformative Justice Coalition to spread the message about fighting for voting rights nationwide, believing that real change happens when people vote for those committed to upholding racial justice.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Voting rights act, anniversary, voting rights, transformative justice