NAACP Evanston Branch Civic Engagement Chair Willie Shaw greets the crowd at ETHS, the end of the votercade route. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

The Evanston/North Shore NAACP hosted a John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Votercade and community engagement celebration from 1 to 3 p.m. on May 8.

Voting rights advocates in more than 150 cities across the country simultaneously took to the streets in voter motorcades, or “votercades” to raise awareness and create energy around protecting the right to vote.

The Transformative Justice Coalition spearheaded the nationwide day of action, teaming up with hundreds of cities and organizations to honor the legacy of the late Representative John Lewis by supporting the passage of federal legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Evanston/North Shore NAACP kicked off the day’s events at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave., where cars lined up for the votercade. Amid honking horns and cheers from onlookers, the line of cars traveled to Evanston Township High School, 1600 Dodge Ave., where more than 50 people participated in a post-votercade celebration.

From left: Mayor Daniel Biss, Lee Austin, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Bennett Johnson, Dr. Michael Nabors, and Gerri Sizemore at the Votercade celebration. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

Special highlights included a live performance by vocalist Roman Walker and a spoken word performance by Ashanti Cole-Stallworth of her original poem, “The Unbreakable.” Speakers included Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Mayor Daniel Biss, Evanston/North Shore NAACP Civic Engagement Chair Willie Shaw, Evanston/North Shore NAACP President Dr. Reverend Michael Nabors, Fifth Ward Alderman Bobby Burns, and civil rights activist and publishing executive Bennett Johnson.

Ms. Shaw was greeted with loud applause as she addressed an enthusiastic crowd.

“There are approximately 250 motorcades that are taking place throughout the United States today, so we’re very, very pleased with that.

“We gather here today, though, to urge you to contact your local, your national Democratic leaders. But even more importantly – to contact your Republican Congresspeople…asking them to pass S1 “For the People Act”; HR 51 for Washington, D.C., statehood; address the [obstacles created by the] filibuster; and pass HR 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act,” said Ms. Shaw, again to loud applause, followed by call-and-response.

“When I say ‘John,’ you say ‘Lewis,’ she said.

“John,” Ms. Shaw called to the crowd.

“Lewis!” they shouted in response.

Rev. Nabors, Senior Pastor at Second Baptist Church as well as President of the Evanston/North Shore NAACP, provided a historical perspective.

“When we talk about voter suppression – this is not the first time that it happened. When the Civil War ended, we had 10 years of relative luxury called Reconstruction. At the end of Reconstruction, voter suppression came into the United States, rolling back all of the progress and all of the amazing things that were done in that 10-year period. In that 10-year period, we were able to elect Black men into the United States Congress.

“Hiram Revels was the first United States senator out of the state of Mississippi. James Lynch was the second person out of Mississippi to become a United States senator. We had P.B.S. Pinchback, who was a Lieutenant Governor of the state of Louisiana and so many more,” said Dr. Nabors.

Congresswoman Schakowsky shared some personal memories of John Lewis.

“John Lewis … came to this very high school to speak. What a beautiful person. I also got arrested with John Lewis,” she said amid cheers from the crowd.

She quoted Congressman Lewis from an editorial he wrote shortly before his death on July 17, 2020: “’The vote is the most powerful non-violent change agent you have in a democracy. So you must use it, because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.'”

“…In the last few months, over 600 anti-voting rights bills have been introduced into legislatures around the country, and many of them have passed,” said Congresswoman Schakowsky.

Mayor Daniel Biss cautioned against complacency when it comes to voting rights.

“We love democracy. That’s the core issue before us. How committed are we to democracy? … My generation learned in school about the sacrifices that John Lewis and his generation of civil rights leaders were prepared to make – the risks they took to their personal safety – to fight for voting rights…

“Sometimes I worry that what we learned in school – that that fight is over, and that that fight is won – and that fight is only to be read about – not to be carried out every day. That attitude is the real danger here,” said Mayor Biss.

“Time and time again, these past few months, y’all been showing up. … Evanston,” said Fifth Ward Alderperson Bobby Burns. “This group – this small group right here – has the power to strengthen our democracy in this country – to strengthen our democracy here in Evanston – to remake this nation. This small group, gathered today, has that power…

“How many postcards have you all written…urging people to call their elected officials, to make sure that we pass important legislation?

“How many times have you strained your voice doing call-and-response chants like we’re doing today?

“Again, this small group has the ability to strengthen this democracy and change this nation – remake this nation,” said Ald. Burns.

Mr. Johnson, who will turn 92 this month, spoke from personal experience that spans the decades.

“My relationship with the [Evanston/North Shore] NAACP began when Melvin Smith sold me a membership when I was 12 years old. That’s when I started on this path,” said Mr. Johnson, who is a 1946 graduate of ETHS.

“I want to congratulate Pastor Nabors, Judy Treadwell – who’s been working for days on this, Willie Shaw and all the leadership of the NAACP – because they are trying to do the right thing. There’s good trouble [as John Lewis would urge people to make], and it’s trouble. I can’t tell you how many jobs I’ve lost because I’ve been active in civil rights.

“But I’ve gained change. I’ve gained success. And we all will gain success as long as we march together, and realize that we’re all – each one of us – important to the cause. Don’t stop. Recruit people, and we will win this thing. We will change this country and make it what it should be – a democracy,” said Mr. Johnson.

Katherine Bridges, who will soon turn 98, participated in the John Lewis Day of Action. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

Katherine Bridges, who will soon turn 98, greeted her friends and neighbors as she sat in the car listening to the speakers and enjoying the music and poetry. Like Mr. Johnson, she has a long history of civil rights advocacy.

“I’ve been with the NAACP 65 years,” said Mrs. Bridges.

She was asked by the RoundTable how she learned about the Evanston/North Shore NAACP Votercade.

“I got a call,” she said.

It was a call to action, and she answered it.


The Unbreakable

(Recited at May 8 votercade)

By Ashanti Cole-Stallworth

We are so great

So great that they don’t even want to make Washington a state

They don’t want to open up the flood gates to our great

Because they know what’s at stake

They want us to break,

But we will not shake

Because we are so great

This is a piece of cake

We have risen to levels higher than the empire state

But we all know they not finna gives us a break,

So now we must congregate

Our leader John Lewis is long gone

But now we must sing his song

And stand strong

This fight has created a everlasting bond

We cannot prolong this fight any longer

Our leader would want us to get stronger

Our voices have been quieted for too long,

Our votes snatched away, making us feel like we been stepped on.

But now we gon tell them BRING IT ON !

We are not the same people that you used to beat on

No longer 3/5 of a human boo

Our hearts are beating whole heartedly

And whole heartedly

We gone show you how it’s done

We are so great

So great that they don’t even want to make Washington a state

They don’t want to open up the floodgates to our great

Because they know what’s at stake

They want us to break,

But we will not shake

Because we are so great

This is a piece of cake

We have risen to levels higher than the empire state

But we all know they not finna gives us a break,

So now we must congregate. 

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.