Almanac

Viewpoint - January 15, 2014

Guest opinion: Struggle outlined by Dr. King continues today

by Henry Organ

These are times of 50-year anniversaries, and it is nearing 50 years ago that The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

In the opening paragraph of Dr. King's acceptance speech in Oslo, he spoke of young people in Philadelphia, Mississippi, who, the day before his speech, were brutalized and murdered while seeking the right to vote. How sad, but predictable, that this non-violent pursuit of the right to vote must continue a half-century later.

Last year, the Supreme Court handed down a decision that weakens the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was enacted only a year after — prompted by Dr. King's Nobel speech in 1964. Within hours of the court's decision last year, some "pre-clearance" states moved immediately to suppress voting rights.

It was almost sinister that that same Supreme Court deflected the subject back to Congress, with a House of Representatives dominated by states that are not eager to expand voting rights. In her Supreme Court opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that Dr. King's legacy and the nation's commitment to justice had been "disserved by today's decision." Amen!

This Supreme Court decision also reminded the nation of a related sinister, non-violent move in many states: gerrymandering voting districts. One of the major goals of gerrymandering is to dilute and negate the effect of equal voting rights and interests of people and communities of color.

Locally, it was prudent for San Mateo County to move from county-wide to district elections. I was honored to have been chosen by former Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson to be a member of the county's Charter Review Committee in 2010, which addressed this subject. I strongly support this change, because it should increase voting and enhance representation for residents throughout the county.

Special recognition must go to the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco, which prompted this move. It is hoped that the district boundaries drawn by the county satisfy constitutional concerns set forth by the Lawyers' Committee at the outset.

Dr. King's birthday is an annual reminder, and challenge, that civil rights are never achieved absolutely and irreversibly. They must be vigilantly sought and protected.

Henry Organ is a Menlo Park resident.

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