Voting Rights Day of Action: Highlights

Bend the Arc
July 28, 2014
July Newsletter

To kick off our day of action on Tuesday, June 24th, Bend the Arc held a press conference and vigil to mark the 50th anniversary of the murders of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner. Just steps from the Capitol Building, we stood with Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, David Goodman, president of the Andrew Goodman Foundation, and civil rights legend, Congressman John Lewis.

“These three young men - Jewish, African American - didn’t die in Vietnam,” said John Lewis. “They didn't die in the Middle East. They didn’t die in Africa, or Eastern Europe, or Central or South America. They died right here in our own country trying to encourage people to become participants in the democratic process.”

The press conference concluded with the lighting of yartzeit candles for Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner and a moment of silence.

Immediately following the vigil, Bend the Arc took to the halls of Congress with the support of 30 volunteers from our close partners in the fight for voting rights. Together, we delivered yartzeit candles to every single Representative and Senator, to ensure that Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner are not forgotten and to call for the passage of the Voting Rights Amendment Act.

Throughout the day Bend the Arc CEO Stosh Cotler and David Goodman met with dozens of members of Congress. Senators and Congressmen, Democrats and Republicans, each of them was given the yartzeit candle in memory of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner. From Senators John McCain, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar to Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and broad array of other House members, our candles were seen, our voices were heard and our call for justice was loud and clear.

In one of the key meetings of the day, Stosh and David sat down with Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner , the lead sponsor of the Voting Rights Amendment Act, and discussed at length how we can work together to move this issue forward. The Congressman shared both his own memories of hearing of the murders of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner while he was a law student in Wisconsin, and his deep commitment to protecting the right to vote for all Americans.

Meanwhile, Bend the Arc leaders across the country held vigils in Denver, Oakland, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Jackson, MS. Through vigils, house parties and local deliveries of petitions to the district offices of Members of Congress, hundreds of activists, young and old, came together to carry on this work, to raise their voices for justice and to live up to the legacy of our community’s deep commitment to the Civil Rights Movement.

As the sun went down in Washington, DC, the day of action concluded at the same site where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech – the Lincoln Memorial. Bend the Arc created a candlelight vigil to commemorate the legacy of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner. 

Starting with a few staff and volunteers, we began to spell out “So All Can Vote” with 3,000 candles — one for each signature on our petition. Soon, a diverse crowd of hundreds of people joined in. Despite a strong wind blowing candles out as we struggled to light them, our volunteers stuck with us until the candles were all lit, joining together in a palpable spirit of purpose and community. The result was a powerful image that resonated across the country and helped demonstrate to Congress that Americans will not sit silently as our rights, and those of our fellow citizens, are compromised. 

The vigil at the Lincoln Memorial was featured on the front page of the Washington Post’s Metro Section and in an online Post photo gallery, as well as being widely shared on social media.  

After the day of action, the Curator of the Division of Political History at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History reached out to request several yartzeit candles for its collection. Our Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner yartzeit candles will now be preserved alongside the great artifacts of American political history and become one more demonstration of our community’s deep commitment to the civil rights movement.