Bruell column: Honoring MLK through action
As we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I want to recognize the impact he made on our nation as well as what we can learn from him today. Dr. King’s remarkable ability to keep his eyes wide open to the cruelties that Black Americans faced, while still envisioning and working toward a society based on equality and love, should be an inspiration for us all.
When the Rev. Dr. King began leading demonstrations for civil rights in 1955, Black Americans, especially those in the Deep South, faced extreme injustices impacting every part of their lives. In addition to intense voter suppression efforts and daily humiliations such as not being allowed to drink from the same water fountains as white Americans, they lived in fear of never knowing when a loved one might be falsely accused of a crime — or even lynched.
Our society’s power structures were so deeply entrenched against Black Americans that it would have been easy to believe that change was impossible. White nationalists of that era certainly would have loved for civil rights activists to simply give up their struggle in defeat.
Instead, Dr. King refused to accept the racist systems and attitudes of the time as immutable. He fought relentlessly for a more just society through his writing, speaking and organizing of collective actions — and his efforts forever changed our country.
It was the boycott of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus system, led by Dr. King, that changed the city’s racist transportation laws. It was the Freedom Marches, led by Dr. King and others, that resulted in changes to segregation laws in the South. Marches and protests like these, including civil rights activists who sacrificed their lives for the cause, ultimately led to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act. These laws made it illegal to put up barriers to voting and to keep Black Americans out of public facilities. As laws changed, the daily reign of terror against Black Americans in the Deep South began to lessen as well.
Thanks to the courage and tenacity of Dr. King, John Lewis, and other civil rights heroes, our country shifted closer to its ideal of freedom and justice for all.
It’s now over half a century since the Voting Rights Act was passed, and we are once again confronted with shameless efforts aimed at making it harder for people to vote, particularly Black, Latino, Indigneous and other people of color. For many people, it’s challenging or impossible to make it to a polling center on a workday before it closes. Mail-in ballots, early voting, expanded hours and ballot drop boxes make it easier for all eligible voters to vote — and that’s exactly what has come under attack.
For example, the Texas governor decided in 2020 that there could be only one ballot drop box per county — even in counties with millions of people. Florida legislators proposed eliminating ballot drop boxes altogether. In Iowa, it is now illegal for county clerks to send out applications for mail-in ballots unless voters specifically request them.
It’s easy to get discouraged by such voter suppression measures. Alarming news gets lots of attention (and clicks) online and elsewhere, so it will continue to fill our newsfeeds. But it’s not the whole picture.
Colorado has made great strides in recent years, with both Democratic and Republican legislators helping to pass measures that strengthen our election system and enhance voter access for every eligible Coloradan. After the 2020 election, El Paso’s Republican County Clerk Chuck Broerman referred to Colorado’s elections as the “gold standard” for the entire nation. The national media has taken note: the Colorado Secretary of State is a frequent guest on cable news as an expert on secure and fair elections.
Looking forward, we must keep our eyes wide open to the attacks on voting rights and equality in general. At the same time, let’s remember all that Dr. King and other civil rights activists were able to accomplish in the 1950s and ’60s. They did not let the bad news of the day keep them from fighting for a better world, and neither should we.
We have the opportunity in 2022 to work together and elect leaders who will defend voting rights and strengthen our democracy. With Garfield County Clerk Jean Alberico retiring, we need a public servant who will be as thorough, trustworthy and even-handed as Jean has been the past 16 years.
Secretary of State Jena Griswold has led a bipartisan effort to create one of the most secure election systems, with one of the highest voter turnouts, nationwide. She is up for re-election in November and has already been under attack for supporting federal voting rights legislation.
Let’s honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy this year not only by exercising our right to vote but by actively joining with others who are working to create a world based on equality, justice and love.
Debbie Bruell of Carbondale is a former Roaring Fork School District Board of Education member and currently chairs the Garfield County Democrats.
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