26 April 2014

NEW ORLEANS –– In a moment captured from a page of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, thousands of disenchanted citizens marched across the Crescent City Connection Bridge on Saturday, seeking the right of displaced New Orleans citizens to vote in the election scheduled April 22.



After fiery speeches delivered on the grounds of the Ernest M. Morial Convention Center by leaders of the civil rights movement, politicians and celebrities, such as Rev. Jesse Jackson, the president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, and celebrity Judge Greg Mathis, the marchers crossed the Crescent City Connection Bridge, spanning the Mississippi River, where thousands of New Orleans citizens were stranded after Hurricane Katrina and the floodwaters of the Gulf of Mexico caused devastation in the city last summer.



As in Selma, Ala., - where everyday people crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in a 1965 protest that helped lead to the landmark Voting Rights Act – Saturday’s protesters, participating in “The March for Our Right to Return, Vote and Rebuild” in New Orleans, want to ensure that the displaced residents of New Orleans are not disenfranchised and that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is protected. They also marched for the right for those scattered in 44 states across the nation to return home, for those displaced to participate in the rebuilding of the city and for New Orleans’ own “Katrina survivors” to receive priority in securing jobs, contracts and places in training programs throughout the Gulf Coast recovery effort.



“All citizens have the right to protect their right to vote,” said Rev. Jackson, the chief organizer of the march and rally. “We have the right to return. We are looking to establish jobs, training, and contracts. Now it is up to the state and local elected officials to carry the ball in the state legislature. No matter what we sacrifice today, [this march] is not as long as the march from Selma to Montgomery.”



At the heart of the protest is the city’s upcoming April 22nd election, which currently excludes 2/3 of New Orleans voters. The election has been pre-cleared by state officials and the U.S. Department of Justice even though voters do not know who is running for office and those seeking office do not know how to communicate with the voters. Organizers want the Secretary of State and Attorney General’s office to provide the public and candidates an updated voter list (including the FEMA list of Katrina survivors around the nation). Not to do so would amount to a “public election with secret voter rolls,” a clear a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, those addressing the crowd said.



In addition to Rev. Jackson, Sharpton and Mathis, the speakers included celebrity/ entertainer Bill Cosby, Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, Bruce Gordon, president of the NAACP, Sibal Holt, Louisiana AFL-CIO president, Charles Steele, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Bishop Paul Morton, Louisiana State Senator Cleo Fields, Congressman William Jefferson, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Jr., Cedric Richmond, chairman of the Louisiana Legislature Black Caucus, and many other political, religious and labor leaders.



Enforcing the Voting Rights Act is particularly crucial to African Americans, because it made racial discrimination in voting unconstitutional. In addition, the New Orleans election is especially meaningful for the nation’s African American community because the population of New Orleans, prior to Katrina, was predominantly African American. Today, African Americans make up the majority of disenfranchised voters, and locking them out of the political process in 44 states -- threatens the current political structure in the city, state and region.



The leaders gathered in New Orleans to show their support of the position of the Louisiana Black Caucus, which is requesting that satellite voting be provided to residents in all 44 states and not just Louisiana. They also called for two other actions to ensure that the Voting Rights Act is not undermined, which include putting the ballots directly in the hands of the people and releasing the voter rolls so candidates know who is eligible to vote and voters know the candidates.



“Our primary concern is that the Voting Rights Act provisions –section 5, 2 and 203,” said Rev. Jackson during the two-hour rally. “You can not mail in a vote. …If it can be done for Mexican and Iraqi Americans, then it can be done for New Orleanians wherever they are.”



Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the New York-based National Action Network, said “it’s an insult” how Katrina survivors are being treated.



“We give more democratic access to people from an enemy country than people of our own country,” Rev. Sharpton said. “This is a violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and a violation of the principles of democracy.”



“Why add insult to injury?” asked Rev. Sharpton asked, who noted that the federal government is “not only moving them from their city to different locations all over the country, but then insulting them by not allowing them the fair opportunity to vote.”



After leading those gathered on a 3.5-mile march from the convention center to the Oakwood Center Mall in Terrytown, on the west bank, the civil rights and political leaders urged those gathered and those who support the cause to call the governor’s office and demand satellite voting. They also thanked the marchers for participating and commended Rev. Jackson for his vision.



“I want to thank all of you for being a part of history,” said Morial, president of the National Urban League and former New Orleans mayor. “I want you to know how much I appreciate the wisdom and leadership of Rev. Jesse Jackson. He pulled us all together in a way we haven’t been pulled together in a long time.”



Bruce Gordon, the president of the NAACP, explained why his organization came out in force.



“The NAACP is 97 years old, one of the oldest organizations advocating for civil rights. We have to be here,” he said. “Every organization that works in civil rights should be here.”



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The Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a progressive organization that seeks to protect civil rights, even the economic and educational playing fields in all aspects of American life and bring peace to the world. For more information about the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, 930 E. 50th St. in Chicago, please see www.rainbowpush.org, or telephone (773) 373-3366. To interview Rev. Jackson on this topic, please call one of the numbers listed above.