Story By: Darwin Campbell,
AUSTIN-Like a wise old philosopher, former President Bill Clinton made his appeal for a nation to choose healing and unity over the partisan politics that threatens to shatter the delicate nature of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act.
With his silver white hair and glasses, he warned that the country could be headed down a bad road that undermines 50 years of civil rights and the spirit of Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr. and others whose sacrifices are written on the walls of history.
“I am concerned that we are headed to the dust bin of history because of too many challenges of trying to recreate yesterday,” the 42nd U.S. President said during his speech at the 50th Anniversary Civil Rights Summit Celebration of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “We should not paralyze this country with these challenges and erect barriers to (voting) and political participation because of race, disability, income or transportation. It undermines the spirit of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.”
William Jefferson Clinton, the first Democratic president in six decades to be elected twice, led the U.S. to the longest economic expansion in American history, including the creation of more than 22 million jobs.
After leaving the White House, President Clinton established the William J. Clinton Foundation with the mission to improve global health, strengthen economies, promote healthier childhoods, and protect the environment by fostering partnerships among governments, businesses, nongovernmental organizations, and private citizens to turn good intentions into measurable results.
According to Clinton, attacking the two is clear way to divide the American public and take away the political voice of the poor and disadvantaged.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out provisions in the Voting Rights Act that protected and secured solid voting rights under the initial act. That act eliminated discrimination in voting, allowing millions of people of color to vote and created more diversity in public service across local state and federal government.
Under attack are the years of open registration and the increasing barriers to registration and going to the polls, including the addition of photo identification at polling places.
He also noted how Lyndon Johnson overcame his strong southern past, understood poverty and hunger on a personal level and used his skills and at the appropriate time to forge the kind of political coalition he needed to pass the Civil Rights Act.
The act was a major step forward in ending discrimination and promoting racial equality. It prohibited discrimination on the basis of color, race, sex, religion or national origin. Johnson went far beyond civil rights and racial integration and believed that education, economic opportunity, health care, affordable housing, clean air and many other issues were inherent civil rights of all American.
“He used the power of the presidency to redeem the promise of America,” Clinton said. “It was a big vote that changed millions of lives.”
Clinton said today, the current move is to divide the American public and work to chip away at current voting and civil rights progress. He added that the pattern of lawmakers has become very divisive and disrespectful, especially to civl rights martyrs killed trying to fight for what was right during the struggle.
According to the former president, the best example of government that will help eliminate party bickering and gridlock is having a government that is inclusive.
“I loved Nelson Mandela,” he said. “Mandela was a great man, but he also practiced the politics of inclusion.”
Clinton noted that when you hold down or hold back a particular people, you hold back the progress of the entire group. He also told the crowd that all in the human race are the same. Race and color does not distinguish one group from another or make them better than another,he said.
He noted that it is the role of leaders in government to help lift up the poor and place them in a position to achieve success and pursue the promise of the American dream.
Clinton said it is up to this generation to keep that promise that Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights worked so hard for and died trying to make happen. Shrinking achievement and personal dignity does nothing to advance the cause of America
“We owe it to these who brought us here,” he said. “We have to get together…we are in an interdependent and go into the future together.”
Clinton made it clear of the cost of eroding rights, restricting freedom and failing to unite using political inclusion.
“We owe it to LBJ, Martin Luther King Jr., the martyrs, immigrants. Thanks (for your work and sacrifices) is not good enough.” he said. “Why risk the future of this great experiment. LBJ and Martin Luther King decided to form a more perfect union and so should we.”