Why Reform Jews Should Lead the Fight to Pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

September 26, 2023Jordan Berg Powers

When I was a kid, I really wanted a dog. I would ask my parents all the time if we could get a dog, and they would have the same answer, "maybe…" That parent "maybe" really meant the answer is no.

8 years old, big enough to be more forceful, I asked my dad, "why can't we get a dog? For real?" My father simply said it's up to your mother.

"Mom, Dad said I should ask you about getting a dog. Why can't we get a dog?" I was indignant and determined.

My Mom lifted her long skirt to over her knee, and the visible marks over her thigh told the answer for themselves. Not needing to dive deeper, she simply said, "I had a bad experience with police dogs when I was younger, I don't like dogs."

My parents, my mother's parents, her aunts and uncles, they all marched and organized in the Civil Rights Movement. But like many of the civil rights generation who were active in the struggle, their stories were not always dinner table conversation; they were traumatic and came with visible and invisible scars.

With the reintroduction of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act last week, it's important to remember the true cost of getting the Voting Rights Act passed. People often speak of the fight for the Voting Rights Act as distant history, but the high cost is still worn on my mother's body. Mass media has Disney-fied the movement for the right to vote; sanitized and diminished to be safe for modern audiences like, The Help.

The fight for the right to vote was born on Black, Brown and often Jewish bodies. It came at high costs like the violent torture and murder of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner.

We should be proud of the visible and many less visible Jewish people who were compelled by our religion and sense of moral imagination to work for the Voting Rights Act. But being proud of other people's actions fails this moment.

With its re-introduction, we should commit ourselves that their memories should be for righteous action. It may seem the fight to pass an updated Voting Rights Act is insurmountable in this partisan atmosphere. The guarantee of immediate success should not deter us from getting involved in the fight.

As voting rights are rolled back and democracy is under attack at the local, state, and federal level, now is the time to join the effort to strengthen the Voting Rights Act. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore the Voting Rights Act by modernizing the preclearance formula and creating safeguards to protect against discriminatory state voting laws.

Urge Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. And, stay tuned as the Reform Movement continues its nonpartisan civic engagement work in 2024.

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