Price Remarks at the Durham Martin Luther King Unity March and Rally
Welcome to the noontime Martin Luther King birthday observance in Durham, an event that for many of us is the high point of a very busy weekend. Busy and significant, especially in Durham, as we also remember the 100th Anniversary of the birth of another towering leader, John Hope Franklin. And we reflect on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, from which my congressional colleague John Lewis barely escaped with his life, and the monumental Voting Rights Act which followed.
Every year, and especially this year, our memory is sharpened, our gratitude is heightened, and not only for those towering figures, but for the thousands more who took to the streets and to the lunch counters, demanding change. And for those determined to break down the barriers to making our political system and government not obstacles but vehicles, to promote liberty and justice for all.
So we remember. And the act of remembering puts us on heightened alert—both to how far we have yet to go and also to threats that would take us back. Which brings me directly to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. There is good evidence that legislators in this and other states knew that the voter suppression measures they were considering—from voter ID requirements to the denial of same-day registration and provisional ballots—were likely to be ruled in violation of the Voting Rights Act. So they held off enactment until the Supreme Court had rendered its ill-advised opinion freeing the states from Voting Rights Act scrutiny. And now those same political forces are preventing Congress from renewing key provisions of the Voting Rights Act despite massive evidence---including gerrymandering schemes in this state and others that have “packed” black voters into a few isolated districts—that a new era of voter suppression is well advanced.
We are also on heightened alert about flaws in our law enforcement and judicial systems. Names we now know—like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner—underscore the need to prevent abuse and to correct abuse in communities across this country, as well as for vigilant investigation by the Justice Department and intervention when necessary to insure that justice is served.
Finally, as we remember Dr. King’s increasing emphasis on issues of poverty and inequality, we realize that here too we are losing ground. We can never accept the cruel and foolish decision by our state’s leaders to deny Medicaid coverage, now available under the Affordable Care Act, to hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians. In Washington last year we finally defeated the Tea Party forces looking to slash food stamps, but we still can’t get the majority to budge on the minimum wage, and they just voted to put “Dream Act” students on a par with dangerous criminals for deportation!
So, “heightened alert” indeed! We pause to remember, but remembering thrusts us back into the fight—in Washington, in Raleigh, wherever the ideals we profess as Americans and as people of conscience and commitment are on the line.