Honoring the Civil Rights & Environmental Justice Legacies of Black Leaders Through Action

Feb 10, 2023


As we celebrate Black History Month, LCV honors the pioneers in the environmental justice movement, including civil rights icons Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the late Congressman John Lewis. 

Dr. King and Congressman Lewis recognized that many of the struggles we face as a nation, including racial inequity, poverty, politics, health, and human rights, are inexorably linked. Their activism set the stage for early environmental justice legislation, including the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, and they built a movement to pass the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 to ensure that Black communities had equal opportunity to build lasting political power for their communities. 

In 1965, the VRA significantly expanded access to the ballot box, and for decades, defended against racially discriminatory and illegal voter suppression. Today, LCV members, activists, volunteers, and dedicated supporters like you continue to work to build a more just and equitable democracy that is responsive to all people and their will to protect the planet because the sad truth is that equality, voting rights, and the environmental health and well being of communities across this nation are still at risk. 

In 2013 the U.S Supreme Court gutted one of the VRA’s main protections for voters of color, in particular Black voters who reside in nine states where racial discrimination in voting was particularly egregious. In 2021, the Court weakened the VRA’s other main protection, making it harder for people of color to vote and to challenge racist voting laws and practices .

This spring, the Court will issue its ruling in Merrill v. Milligan, a key case that could weaken the VRA even further. The Court is poised to sign off on an egregious racial gerrymander that will disenfranchise Black voters in Alabama, a blatant violation of the VRA and a return to the discriminatory practices that civil rights activists have long fought against. 

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Voting rights are interwoven with climate and environmental issues. Congressman Lewis understood the intersectionality of climate change, racial justice, and equity. In 1992, Rep. Lewis introduced the Environmental Justice Act, the first piece of legislation dedicated to abolishing racial disparities in how environmental protection was applied.

Today, LCV and our supporters work to advance Dr. King’s and Congressman Lewis’ legacies by continuing to fight against the intertwined threats to our democracy and our environment. LCV’s Democracy For All program has worked to increase participation in our democracy and combat systemically racist barriers to the electoral process through policy advocacy and a multi-faceted civic engagement program. 

We help register people to vote, support people in making voting plans, encourage voters to utilize mail-in voting and early voting, and recruit election workers to ensure free and fair elections. We also advocate for legislation, ballot measures, pro-democracy judges, and local election administrative policies designed to enhance the voting rights and fair representation for all people in our country, regardless of their race or zip code. 

We can’t have a healthy environment without a healthy democracy. To achieve both, we must ensure that voters who historically and systemically face the greatest barriers to the ballot box can engage at every level of our democracy — especially communities of color, communities with low wealth, immigrants, youth and elderly communities, and people with disabilities, who are also the communities most likely to bear the burden of impacts from the climate crisis and environmental injustice. 

LCV will continue to organize and mobilize for policies that advance a safe, healthy, equitable and just environment and democracy for all. To do that, we need supporters like you to take action

As we celebrate Black History Month, let us be inspired by the civil rights and environmental justice great leaders who came before us, and let us honor their legacies through action to advance the world that they dreamed of and fiercely advocated for.

The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it. — John R. Lewis, Congressman & Civil Rights Leader