This MLK Day, Celebrate His Legacy by Committing to the Polls

Today, our nation honors the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man whose dream of an America that fulfilled its promise of equal rights for all has inspired generations to fight for justice.

From the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the historic March on Washington, Dr. King’s extraordinary record of achievement has challenged our society to be better and to come together to fight against the evils of racism, discrimination and inequality that divide us.

In the past few decades, we’ve seen the fruits of his labor and the actions of those who are doing their part in the fight to right the wrongs that remain. But this historic moment in Black history reminds us that there is still much work to be done, and the sacrifice and legacy of civil rights champions like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. demand our fullest reverence on this day and every day.

At a time when states across the country are trying to pass laws to suppress our right to vote;

When African Americans are harassed and even killed in their own homes; And when some of our elected leaders sit on the sidelines, rather than fulfill their responsibility to the constitution, 2020 must be the year to be bold, mobilize, and take action.

In 2020, there is nothing more fulfilling of Dr. King’s dream than exercising our right to vote and participate in elections. 2020 marks 150 years since Black men earned the right to vote, 100 years since women fought for their rights, and the 55th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery -- resulting in the Voting Rights Act, where we as a people codified our position as an important part of American democracy.

The importance of Black voters to primary candidates has been clear for decades -- from Jimmy Carter’s nomination (and ultimately the presidency) in 1976, to Doug Jones’ election in Alabama in 2017.

In this new decade, it is our responsibility to tell our candidates that the Black vote is neither an afterthought, nor a guarantee. People of color are still fighting for voting rights, our system of justice still only works for a few, and the right for every worker to earn a livable wage has yet to be achieved.

Once candidates speak to Black communities, show dedication to the Black agenda, and understand that the Black vote is not a monolith, rather made up of the interests of millions of individual people of color, we will see the real change Dr. King envisioned.

Each day, fueled by our supporters, NAACP is working to make the modern-day civil rights movement possible, carrying on Dr. King’s vision on behalf of all people of color, and fighting to keep his dream alive for future generations.

In this new decade, we all need to use our platforms to speak up, give a voice to our experiences, and elect the candidate most aligned with our agenda -- the Black agenda. Just as Dr. King led in his time, it is up to those of us who care about justice and equality for all to vote for our interests, fight, and lead.

As Dr. King said, “Voting is the foundation stone for political action.” Let’s put these words to work.

— Derrick Johnson is President and CEO of the NAACP

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