Members of the Congressional Black Caucus raised an issue that has civil rights groups around the country concerned -- the changes to the nation's voting laws that require people who want to cast ballots to produce new forms of photo identification in many states. Activists are concerned that the new rules, many pushed by Republican officials around the country, are an effort to suppress voter participation among African Americans and other minorities.
"Today one of the darkest shadows of the last century is creeping into this one," said Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), recalling the passage of the Voting Rights Act 47 years ago. "One of our most basic rights, the right to vote, is in jeopardy."
Rep. Al Green, (D-Texas), evoked the history of the civil rights movement in his short remarks, saying Americans must stand up again. "In the 60's, we marched because it was the right thing for our country, and it made us stronger," he said. "It is up to us to wake up. It is up to us to stand up!"
He was followed by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), chair of the black caucus who called for more bipartisanship in politics. Cleaver, a pastor, delivered his remarks with a preacher's cadence.
"The bickering and brinkmanship we see too often in our politics is advantaging no one. It weakens our nation," he said. "We can be tough without being toxic."
But Cleaver brought the audience to their feet when he began a riff on the values of his party and hope. "Mr. President when all hope is gone, hope on! Hope on! It is our hope and faith that moves us to action! It is our hope that instructs us to hope on!" he said as he marched in place.
He left the stage nearly hoarse and the crowd was on its feet.