Celebrating History by Fighting for Our Democracy and Our Environment

As we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington this past weekend, it is a critical time to reflect on the progress we’ve made and the fight that continues for civil rights and equal access to the ballot. This year, the National Wildlife Federation is joining with partners to honor the march by calling on Congress to pass legislation focused on making voting more accessible and ensuring that all voters have a say in the solutions necessary to confront the climate, wildlife, and environmental justice crises facing our country. 

On August 28, 1963, 250,000 people from across the country descended on Washington, D.C., to demand federal civil rights protections for Black Americans, including the right to vote. One of the leaders who spoke at the march was a young student activist named John Lewis. Just two years later, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — a transformative piece of legislation which enshrined the right to vote for all Americans, regardless of race, in federal law. Lewis went on to represent his home state of Georgia in the House of Representatives for 33 years until his passing in 2020.

Unfortunately, in recent years the Supreme Court has dramatically weakened the Voting Rights Act (VRA), enabling states across the country to pass legislation to restrict voting access. These harmful state laws have disproportionately impacted Black voters as well as voters from other marginalized groups. When states are allowed to disenfranchise and limit the political power of marginalized groups, they perpetuate the long-standing inequities that have led to communities of color and low-income communities facing the devastating health and economic consequences of environmental pollution.

We cannot protect wildlife, fight climate change, or achieve environmental justice without protecting the right to vote for all Americans, especially those targeted by both voter suppression and environmental injustice. 

A Black person with box braids sits on the ground with signs in front of them advocating for environmental justice and clean water.
A participant of the 60th Anniversary of the March on Washington rallies for environmental justice and clean water. Photo credit: Victoria Pickering

That is why the National Wildlife Federation is following the leadership of partners and civil rights leaders in calling for the reintroduction and passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to honor the lifetime of work and sacrifice of Congressman Lewis by restoring the hard-won protections of the VRA. 

Today, the legacy of Congressman Lewis continues through his successor, Congresswoman Nikema Williams, who introduced a series of bills in the House on Friday aimed at protecting and expanding voting access, including the Voters on the Move Registration Act, Expanding the VOTE Act, Election Mail Act, Sustaining our Democracy Act, and Youth Voting Rights Act which are all proudly endorsed by the National Wildlife Federation. 

All of these bills also come quickly on the heels of the reintroduction of the Freedom to Vote Act in the Senate, a comprehensive and critical piece of legislation which also aims to expand and increase access to the ballot for all citizens. 

We stand on the shoulders of those who marched 60 years ago, but the fight for civil and voting rights does not live in the past. It is alive today and requires the continuous participation of our citizens to safeguard and build upon the hard-fought legacy of leaders like Congressman Lewis and many others. We call on all of our elected representatives to honor this legacy today by enacting this legislation and protecting our democracy.