FANNIE LOU HAMER, ROSA PARKS, AND CORETTA SCOTT KING VOTING RIGHTS ACT REAUTHORIZATION AND AMENDMENTS ACT OF 2006 -- (Senate - July 20, 2006)
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Mr. GRAHAM. Thank you, Mr. President.
I wish to take a few moments to add my voice to the Senate debate in terms of why I will vote for the Voting Rights Act reauthorization.
No. 1, I am a member of the Judiciary Committee, and I wish to congratulate our chairman, Senator Specter, and our ranking member, Senator Leahy, for getting the bill out of committee. It was an 18-to-0 vote. I have enjoyed that committee in many ways, and one of the highlights of my time on that committee is getting this piece of legislation to the floor for a vote. I anticipate an overwhelming vote for the Voting Rights Acts.
There are so many ways to say why, and so many approaches to explain the continued need. But the best I can say, in terms of my voice being added to the debate, is that I recognize it is just a voice, that I am in the Senate--I just turned 51 years old, a child of the South. I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, and I went to segregated schools until, I think, the fifth or sixth grade.
My life is better because of the civil rights movement.
It has enriched the country. I have been able to interact with people in ways that would have been impossible if segregation had stood and, as Senator Obama indicated, his career in the Senate is possible. I would argue that most Americans' lives are better because in America you can interact in a meaningful way now. And one of the interactions is to be able to vote.
But it is just a voice I add. To get here, literally, to get the Voting Rights Act passed back in the 1960s, people died. They shed their blood, their sweat. They put their hopes and dreams for their children on the line. They were willing to die for their insistence that they play a meaningful role in American society. And the most meaningful way you can participate is to be able to vote without fear.
Dr. King is a fascinating historical figure now. He was a fascinating man while he lived. I have been in the military for quite a while. I have been around a lot of brave people--pilots who take off and fly in harm's way. I sort of have an affinity for military history. I always admired the people who would go up the hill in the face of overwhelming force or stand with their comrades when it looked as though all hope was lost because that was the right thing to do.
They were willing to sacrifice their life not only for their country but for their fellow service members, the people in their unit. How hard that must have been. Some people rise to the occasion and some don't. Those who rise to the occasion are called heroes, rightly so. Those who fail to rise to the occasion are called human beings.
All human beings, me included, should celebrate the heroes. The thing that I admire most about Dr. King and his associates is that it is one thing to put your own life at risk. It is another thing to put your family at risk. I would imagine, never having met Dr. King, that one of his biggest fears was not about his personal safety but about what might happen to his family. To me that is the ultimate act of bravery, to know that if you do nothing, your family is going to be locked into a system where life is very meaningless. And to do something so heroic and so challenging that you put your family at risk had to be a very hard decision.
So as we reauthorize the Voting Rights Act, we need to remember, all of us who vote, that it is not that big a deal. There is no one in the Senate. Hardly anyone is listening. We have some visitors here in the Capitol. It is going to pass pretty quickly. Everybody knows the outcome. In the 1960s, people did not know the outcome. I argue that the fact we reauthorized this without a whole lot of discussion and rancor is the best testament to its success. All the fears and all the playing on people's prejudices that would come from integration, if it came about, or allowing everyone to vote, if it came about, they were just that--baseless fears. As you look back from 2006 over the history of the Voting Rights Act, there is nothing to fear. Allowing Americans to fully participate in a democracy has been a wonderful thing. Allowing people to go to the movie they went to go to and go to the restaurant they want to eat at and play on the same sports teams as every other person in their neighborhood, regardless of race, creed, or color, is a wonderful thing. At the time it was a frightful thing.
That says nothing about this generation being good and the last generation being evil. It speaks to the weakness of humanity. Within all of us there is a fear that can be tapped into. We have to guard against that. We have to be on constant guard not to let the issues of our day play on our fears.
I argue that one of those issues we are dealing with today that is playing on the fears of the past and the weaknesses of humanity is the immigration issue. I hope as we move forward on the immigration issue, we can understand that obeying the law is an essential part of America, and people need to be punished when they break it. But America's strength has been absorbing people from all over the world, from different backgrounds, races, and creeds, and allowing them to share in the American dream. We should do it in an orderly way, not a chaotic way.
To the issue at hand, the Voting Rights Act will be extended. I believe it is for 25 years. Some of the data in the act is based on 1968, 1972 turnout models. The act does not recognize the progress particularly in my region of the country. I think it should have, but it didn't. So we will just move on.
South Carolina has made great strides forward in terms of African American voting participation and minority African American representation at all levels of State government and local government. My State is better for that. I am proud of the progress that has been made. To those who made it happen, those who risked their blood, sweat and tears, I owe you a debt, as everyone of my generation does. When I cast my vote today, it will be in your honor and your memory.
I hope 25 years from now it can be said that there will be no need for the Voting Rights Act because things have changed for the better. I can't read the future or predict what the world will be like 25 years from now or what America will be like. But if we keep making the progress we have in the last 25 years, it can happen.
It is incumbent upon each Member of this body--regardless of political differences, party affiliation, or personal background--to try to bring out the best in our country no matter how hard the issue might be, no matter how emotional it might be, and no matter how much people play on our fears. Just as those who came before us rejected the desire to play on fears and prejudices and risked their personal safety, I hope this generation of political leaders that I am now a part of will live up to the ideals demonstrated by Americans in the past who were brave, who risked it all for the common good.
I will close with this thought: As Senator Obama said, if we can embrace the spirit that led to the Voting Rights Act--a sense of fair play, fair treatment--and apply it to other areas and other issues facing our Nation, we will be much stronger. It is with that sense of purpose and hope that I will vote to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act.
To my fellow South Carolinians, you have come a long way. You have much to be proud of. But we, like every other part of this country, still have a long way to go.
I yield the floor.