Rev. Jesse Jackson kicked off the Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s 40th annual conference Saturday by warning that photo ID laws in some states impinge on the voting rights of African Americans, college students and others who are less likely to carry official IDs.
Speaking before about 150 people at Rainbow PUSH headquarters in the Kenwood neighborhood, Jackson said the requirements that voters in Indiana, Georgia and six other states bring photo identification cards to the polls is a new form of disenfranchisement.
PUSH remains important 40 years after he founded the organization in Chicago, Jackson said, because it brings attention to these issues.
“We’ve come full circle,” Jackson said from the stage, conjuring memories of the civil rights battles that he waged alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1960s. “All that Dr. King stood for, fought for, that we now honor him for, is under attack.”
Jackson was joined by state legislators from Indiana, South Carolina and elsewhere in starting the five-day PUSH conference. Attendees plan to discuss ways in which the gains of the civil rights movement are being eroded.
Jackson called on the Justice Department to investigate the legality of state voter identification laws, which vary across different states from requirements for government-issued IDs to any photo ID.
“It is their job, it is their duty to intervene,” Jackson said, about federal officials.
Eight states have passed laws requiring voters to produce photo ID cards before they’re allowed to cast regular election ballots, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In some of those states, the federal government has to give clearance before the laws can take effect under provisions of the Voting Rights Act.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker recently signed legislation to enact the requirement there, joining Indiana and Kansas among Midwestern states with such laws. Illinois does not require voters to show photo identification at election polls.
While supporters of such measures say they help cut down vote fraud, Jackson argued on Saturday that they disportionately hurt traditional Democractic Party constitutents such as African Americans and Latinos.
Operation PUSH was formed by Jackson in 1971 as a platform to improve economic conditions in black communities. He started the Rainbow Coalition after his 1984 presidential campaign in part to try to unite progressives to oppose domestic spending policies of President Ronald Reagan, according to the Rainbow PUSH Web site. Jackson later merged the two groups.