Sixty years after Rosa Parks refused to stand up on a Montgomery bus for a white man, Hillary Clinton travelled to Alabama Tuesday to call for an end to discriminatory laws in the United States.
“Our work isn’t finished,” Clinton told a gathering hosted by the National Bar Association’s 60th Anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott. “We do have to pay it forward. There are still injustices perpetrated every day across our country, sometimes in spite of the law, and sometimes, unfortunately, in keeping with it.”
In a 28-minute speech at a celebration of the bus boycott set in motion by Parks, Clinton called for criminal justice reform, an end to restrictive voting laws and new gun control measures. She did not mention Parks until the end of her speech. “Even as we celebrate all that our country has achieved in the past 60 years,” Clinton said. “We must in keeping with the legacy of those who have gone before look to the future and the work that is left to do.”
Clinton has made outreach to blacks a central part of her candidacy, speaking in black churches, predominantly minority neighborhoods, and rolling out a series of policy proposals popular with the diverse coalition that helped elect Barack Obama. In the eight years since Clinton overwhelmingly won white and rural voters in the contested 2008 primary, the former secretary of state has shifted her focus to gaining support from a younger and more diverse electorate. Central to Clinton’s push is her opposition of restrictive voting laws, which she and many critics say hurt minorities.
Clinton spoke at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, the church steps away from the Alabama state capitol building where Martin Luther King, Jr. helped organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Alabama is at the center of a controversy roiling voting laws around the country since it become one of the states that in recent years has enacted strict voter ID requirements.
Critics say the laws are a crass Republican election tactic aimed at restricting the vote among minorities and the young, blocs who traditionally support Democrats. “I thought we’d solved that problem,” Clinton said in the church, referring to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “But unfortunately there is mischief afoot. Some people are just determined to to do what they can to keep other Americans from voting.”
She criticized Alabama’s voter ID law, saying, “the right to vote is so fundamental to our democracy but its also about people’s dignity.”
The voter ID rule in Alabama is one of the stricter laws in the country, requiring photo identification rather than just an address or Social Security information. Many Democrats have called foul, accusing Republicans of trying to limit turnout among poorer voters who may not have drivers licenses.
In September, Alabama lawmakers announced the closing of driver’s license offices in order to make savings in the state budget. “Old battles have become new again,” said Democratic Rep. Terri Sewewll, the first black congresswoman from Alabama, shortly before Clinton spoke. “As long as Alabama requires state IDs and closes DMVs, there’s work to do.”
Republicans have shot back at the criticism, saying the voting laws are crucial in protecting against voter fraud.
“I think it frankly is semi-insulting” to criticize an “attempt to make certain people who vote are actually voters,” said Republican strategist Karl Rove in an interview with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer last week. “One of the most precious thing we have as Americans is our ballot and nothing should be done that allows that ballot to be watered down by fraud.”