Bill Nelson: We have not realized Dr. King’s dream

 

Fifty years ago Wednesday the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and shared his dream with the world.

As we pause to remember that iconic moment in our nation’s history, we should reflect on all the progress our country has made since the slain civil rights leader spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

At the same time we cannot and must not lose sight of the fact that there remains much to be done.

I wonder, for example, what Dr. King would have said or would have done after the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling that in essence gutted the country’s Voting Rights Act.

Earlier this year, a sharply divided High Court hammered a stake into the law that’s been guaranteeing equal access to the ballot since the time of Dr. King in the late 1960s.

For anyone to still say we no longer have voter suppression in this country — that would be naive. It may not be as blatant as it once was, but it’s there.

Just two years ago the Florida Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed a new law limiting early voting. The law included some other so-called reforms, as well.

Now the governor is pushing ahead with his program to purge from the state’s voter rolls people he says aren’t supposed to vote. Critics contend the move will result in citizens being intimidated, despite having every legal right to vote.

Dr. King believed that in a democracy like ours, every citizen has a fundamental right to vote. “So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself,” he said. “I cannot make up my mind — it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact — I can only submit to the edict of others.”

I agree. And until we as a country truly uphold this right we will not have realized the dream Dr. King so artfully articulated 50 years ago.

Bill Nelson is Florida’s senior U.S. senator.

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