Representative Joyce Beatty on her arrest in protest against voting rights
Voting rights in America under attack. This year alone, states across the country passed dozens of restrictive election laws, while Republicans continue to block comprehensive voting reform legislation in the US Senate. United States The Supreme Court also recently gutted what was left of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act – a law the late Congressman John Lewis helped pass – leaving even fewer protections in place.
To send a message on what is at stake, Congresswoman and Black Congressional Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty joined a group of voting rights activists inside the Hart Senate office building to peacefully protest and was quickly arrested. The same day, she tweeted: “You can stop me. You can’t stop me. You can’t silence me. Below, in her own words, Beatty explains to ELLE.com why she felt called to walk that day and why she doesn’t stop now.
When I got up on Thursday morning, I wanted to feel empowered. I was very conscious in choosing my dress code. My shirt, which said “Protect our voting rights”, was obvious. I was wearing a red, white and blue bead bracelet made in Africa. I draped myself in the red, white and blue of democracy. It was important for me to make a statement about who I am – a strong black woman who wanted to stand up for other young girls.
That day, I joined an intergenerational group of leading black women and allies to defend our voting rights. The Voting Rights Act was passed 56 years ago, yet we are still thinking about how to protect our rights today. We have seen Senate Republicans refuse to engage in constructive dialogue when drafting federal legislation to ensure equal access to the vote for all Americans. We have just received a visit from members of the Texan delegation, who have come to DC to block electoral restrictions in their state. So when the bugle call came to stand up, to say something, to do something, to get the nation’s attention, I said absolutely. I really thought this could be a moment in history, and I wanted to be a part of it.
As chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, John Lewis’s Advancement Voting Act is our number one issue. And as a black woman it was important for me to do more than just say this is our problem. Think about the power of one. One person can make a difference. Rosa Parks did it. Martin Luther King Jr. did. Fannie Lou Hamer did it. Harriet Tubman did it. So why not Joyce Beatty?
On the day of the demonstration, we met at The United Methodist Church with a common message: It is time for us to follow in John Lewis’ footsteps. This is how we determined most of the words we used: “When you see something wrong, say something. “Getting in big trouble.” “No turning back.” We took him to the sidewalk and the streets to walk, sing, to hopefully let the American people know: We know what we have to lose, and we know what we have to fight for.
So we decided to go to the US Senate. We were there in the Hart Building and we were singing and expressing our desire to stop voter suppression. We were told we couldn’t do this in this space, and at that time we were fighting for justice. I don’t know if I heard the three warnings. I heard the first one, but we were determined it was worth our peaceful protest. It was worth accepting all the consequences. I was there for John Lewis, at all costs, and it even meant being arrested.
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In the January 6 uprising, thousands of people damaged federal property, rushed in and smashed doors. People were dying. There was nothing peaceful about it. And look what happened. That day, there were no arrests, no handcuffs, no rice wagons. But that’s just another reason we need to talk. It was all the more reason for me to fight for justice, including being arrested, if necessary.
Our history has taught us that when people speak out, it makes a difference. On Saturday night I was at the Black Lives Matter Plaza with many of the eight women who were arrested with me. People were in the square with signs, some five feet long, which lit up, signs that men and women, black, brown and white, were carrying that said “Pass HR 4”, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and “Pass HR 1”, the For the People law. If it becomes contagious and people stand up, then we won’t have to fight for our right to vote anymore.
Right now we have so much to lose. We go back to the days when you had to guess how many jelly beans there are in a jar to vote. Some people can’t even give someone a bottle of water while they’re in line to vote. In Ohio, if you’ve ever served time for a felony, they try to take away your right to vote. Think about the worst cases of voter suppression. Think about the people who are withdrawing early voting. Think about unnecessary barriers to preventing you from voting. My Republican colleagues in state chambers are deliberately passing legislation that will set us back 56 years.
Just a few weeks ago, my granddaughter said to classmates, “My grandma is a big deal. It is about his future. This is about my grandson, as a young black man, able to go ahead and leave a legacy and say, “My grandmother fought for justice, and now look. -me. It is about the present and the future. It’s about making a statement. And we will be in the battle for as long as we are needed.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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