They Stood Up: Unsung Heroes Behind the Voting Rights Headlines
This blog originally appeared on Huffington Post.
From courtrooms to the streets, voter protection advocates around the country have spent the past two years working to uphold the right to vote in this country. In that time, Advancement Project and our partners have won numerous victories: securing gubernatorial vetoes of photo ID laws in six states; court orders blocking photo ID laws for the 2012 elections in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Texas and South Carolina; and halting the purge of thousands of validly registered voters in Florida, to name a few.
These victories would not have been possible without the courage of everyday Americans who stood up for their right to participate in democracy. In tribute to these citizens, Advancement Project paired up with award-winning documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders, The Murder of Emmett Till) for three short films telling their stories.
One film tells the story of Bettye Jones, the lead plaintiff in an Advancement Project lawsuit challenging Wisconsin's restrictive photo ID law, and her daughter Debra Crawford. Because Bettye was born at home in the segregated south and never issued the birth certificate needed to obtain government-issued photo ID today, this lifelong voter became suddenly ineligible to vote in Wisconsin -- despite much time and money spent trying to get the birth certificate. After Bettye and Debra spent much of 2012 fighting against to get her needed documents, a judge blocked Wisconsin's onerous law. Bettye prepared to vote once again.
Barely two weeks after her film was shot last month, at the age of 78, Bettye passed away. A longtime civil rights activist, from helping integrate Ohio's schools to electing the first African-American mayor of a major city, it's fitting that one of her last acts was to encourage all of us to protect and exercise our right to vote.
Bettye's story of resistance and triumph, as well as the others in this film series, serve as a powerful reminder of why we in the voter protection field do our work. They're also a call to action for all Americans to make their voices heard at the voting booth. Voting is the one time when we are all equal, when every citizen -- whether rich or poor, young or old, and regardless of race -- has the same influence. And in this election, which will define the nation's future around jobs, education and healthcare, we should all have a say.
Leading up to Election Day, many individuals like Bettye have been fighting to ensure that every eligible citizen can vote, and I encourage you to make your voice heard on November 6. The best way to protect your vote, after all, is to use it.