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SCOTUS Ruled in Favor of Voting Rights. Southern Black Voters Made That Happen.

The pro-democracy movement is alive and well in the South, fighting every attempt to drag us back to the Jim Crow era.

Lead counsel for the plaintiffs Deuel Ross (2nd left) speaks to members of the press as President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Janai Nelson (right), plaintiff Evan Milligan (2nd right) and Rep. Terri Sewell (3rd right) listen after the oral argument of the Allen v. Milligan case at the U.S. Supreme Court on October 4, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

The Supreme Court this week allowed Louisiana to redraw its congressional districts to fairly represent Black voters. This action comes on the heels of the court’s decision earlier this month in Allen v. Milligan, in which one of us was a key plaintiff, finding that Alabama’s new congressional maps dilute the power of Black voters in the state. These developments deliver a much-needed victory for voting rights.

Since 2020, we’ve worked tirelessly alongside other voting rights advocates to fight against those who attempt to silence the voices of Black voters and drag us back to the Jim Crow era.

These recent decisions aren’t just a win for the state of Alabama and Louisiana — they’re also a win for the South and the entire country, because when it comes to voting rights, as the South goes, so goes the nation.

Only 10 years ago, another Supreme Court case rooted in Alabama invalidated Sections 4(b) and 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The court’s ruling on Shelby County v. Holder removed a critical provision known as preclearance, which mandated that specific states like Alabama obtain federal approval before making any changes to their voting laws.

Since the Shelby decision, anti-democratic extremists have taken aim at other pieces of the Voting Rights Act — including the very section the court upheld in our own case in Allen. In Alabama specifically, current congressional maps limit the ability of Black voters to exercise their political voices. While making up 27 percent of Alabama’s population, we comprise the majority of only one of the state’s seven congressional districts. In fact, an analysis from the Associated Press found that Alabama bears the brunt of some of the worst gerrymandering efforts in the nation.

It’s not just Alabama, though. In Louisiana, although Black voters make up nearly a third of the state’s population, only one of the six congressional districts in the current map has a majority of Black voters. The threats to representation are real — and deeply felt — but allies like the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, which works to empower Black voters, are leading the way to change today’s injustices. The Supreme Court’s announcement this week demonstrates this connection.

While the court’s ruling in Allen decided against gutting the Voting Rights Act further — which will help states like Louisiana and Texas as they work through similar redistricting battles — we cannot deny that this win is only the first step. Previous Supreme Court rulings like Shelby have devastated voting rights nationwide, and our democracy has paid the price — all with Alabama at the center.

This year alone, more than 370 voter suppression bills were passed in statehouses across the country. The impact of these laws cannot be overstated — especially for Black and Brown voters who have historically faced barriers to the ballot box. These laws are drafted, introduced, passed and signed into law by a minority of extremists hellbent on overriding our country’s democratic tradition to silence voices they consider inferior. Through legislative efforts like strict voter ID laws, limiting polling locations in Black communities and removing resources like ballot drop boxes, lawmakers can pick and choose the constituents they serve.

This is why, even in light of these recent legal victories, our movement for a multiracial and equitable democracy must continue to grow, because we know this fight is not just about one state — it’s about an entire region and the nation.

For decades, many in politics have written off states like Alabama — considering us “backwards,” and a place where progress is unachievable. Our own case in Allen was written off, with many believing we had no chance of winning.

Alabama and other southern states have been abandoned to the archaic and violent whims of white supremacy-laden institutions, with most of us in the South labeled “conservatives,” simply because those in power have been able to rig the system to their benefit to maintain their financial and political influence.

But what many don’t know is that the pro-democracy movement is alive and well in the South, including Alabama. Black, Indigenous, people of color, LGBTQ+ leaders, and white allies are reimagining our towns, cities, states and country. We’re actively engaging in movement-building rooted in community, justice, equity and freedom.

Last year, Shake the Field, an initiative of our organization, Alabama Forward, held a series of festivals called “The Trap Democracy Festival series,” fusing various aspects of Black culture to educate Alabama communities about the importance of civic engagement and having every person’s voice heard in the governing of our neighborhoods and country. Earlier this month, we held a live music show and forum called “Democracy: Now or Never,” that brought together Alabamians in our pursuit of justice.

Through these events, we were able to reach several thousand Alabamians whose voices aren’t typically heard, and we’re not done. The work to secure our democracy is far from over.

We will continue to work toward liberation and build power for those who’ve been forced to the margins of society and government. We urge you to join us in the fight for democracy and racial equity, whether by joining a local civic engagement organization, educating yourself on other gerrymandering cases taking place near you or holding lawmakers accountable for laws that attempt to drag us back to Jim Crow. In our constitutions, at every level of government, we must establish the right to vote and have our votes counted.

We want to tell a new story about Alabama — one that is not defined by stereotypes but an accurate narrative about a people who are willing to imagine new futures — people who not only fight to uphold the legacy of heroes past but also of those yet to come.