WATCH: Obama Calls For Voting Reform & Filibuster Abolition During John Lewis Eulogy
During his 40-minute eulogy for the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), former President Barack Obama called for broad voting reform as a means to recognize the legacy of the fallen civil rights hero.
Lewis, who worked tirelessly to promote racial justice as both a Freedom Rider and later a congressman, had been an outspoken proponent of the Voting Rights Act. On Thursday, Obama said loosening voter ID requirements and making Election Day a national holiday would continue Lewis’ work.
“We may no longer have to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar in order to cast a ballot, but even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting by closing polling locations, and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws, and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision – even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick,” Obama said.
Obama then argued in favor of formerly incarcerated individuals having their voting rights restored, and that the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico should have “equal representation in our government.”
“If all this takes eliminating the filibuster, another Jim Crow relic, in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do,” he said.
Obama then bolstered the idea of “revitalizing” the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which the Supreme Court undermined in 2013 by allowing nine states – mainly in the South – to alter their election laws without federal approval.
“Want to honor John?” Obama said. “Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for. And by the way, naming it the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, that is a fine tribute – but John wouldn’t want us to stop there, just trying to get back to where we already were.” He specifically called for adding polling locations and early voting, automatic voter registration and designating a national election holiday.
The former president then underscored the importance voting plays in democracy, and encouraged Americans to emulate Lewis’ push for equal representation.
“Democracy isn’t automatic,” Obama said. “It has to be nurtured, it has to be tended to, we have to work at it. If we want our children to grow up in a democracy – not just with elections, but a true democracy, a representative democracy, a bighearted, tolerant, vibrant, inclusive America – then we’re going to have to be more like John.”
He continued: “I know this is a celebration of John’s life. There are some who might say, ‘You shouldn’t dwell on such things. But that’s why I’m talking about it. John Lewis devoted his time on this earth to fighting the very attempts on democracy and what’s best in America. That we’re seeing circulate right now.”