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With the Democratic Party on the verge of failure in Congress, the family of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday joined with other civil rights advocates and faith leaders in Washington, D.C. to demand lawmakers pass national voting rights legislation.
The MLK Day action comes amid a wave of voter suppression efforts advanced by Republican-controlled state legislatures and ongoing obstruction from right-wing Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to change the rules of the filibuster—the Senate’s 60-vote threshold rule that critics have dubbed a “Jim Crow relic” used to block key democracy reforms.
The event comes just ahead of a planned effort by Senate Democrats to advance a House-approved bill that combines the Freedom to Vote Act and John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will attempt to use a procedural workaround to overcome GOP opposition, but that will only be possible if Manchin and Sinema end their objections to a filibuster carve-out.
The Deliver for Voting Rights campaign, the group behind Monday’s march, states that Congress must seize the “historic opportunity” to protect voting rights.
“From the Civil War to the Jim Crow era, the filibuster has blocked popular bills to stop lynching, end poll taxes, and fight workplace discrimination,” the campaign says. “Now it’s being used to block voting rights. The weaponization of the filibuster is racism cloaked in procedure and it must go.”
“There’s no time to wait,” they added. “We honor Dr. King with action.”
Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law—one of the partners of the voting rights campaign—rejected a “sanitized, watered-down recollection of Dr. King” that “is wholly divorced from the reality of his life” and stressed that the slain rights leader’s “service was about activism—an engaged leadership that brought our country closer to its stated ideals.”
“Dr. King’s activism taught us that those who care about freedom must take action to shake loose equality from whatever stands in the way, including cynicism and complacency with the status quo,” said Hewitt. “In that spirit, and on this day of remembrance, we will redouble our efforts to defend voting rights and save our democracy.”
After a morning “Peace March” kicking off from the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, event organizers were set to hold a noon press conference with speakers including Drum Major Institute president Arndrea Waters King, Poor People’s Campaign co-chair Rev. Liz Theoharis, and Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown.
In a statement Monday, Brown referenced MLK’s remark that “voting rights are the foundation stone of political action” and his legacy “inextricably tied to his lifelong dedication to protecting Black voting rights.”
“There is a cruel hypocrisy that, today, the United States Senate has taken a vacation day to acknowledge Dr. King’s legacy while two critical voting rights bills—the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act—languish on the Senate floor,” said Brown. “Even when Dr. King’s children have called for this to be a day on, not off. Martin Luther King III has said there can be ‘no celebration without legislation.’ And Bernice King asked us to use this day to advocate for changing the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation. And so we are.”
Despite some “incredible progress over the years,” Brown lamented recent “dangerous Supreme Court decisions, a wave of state-level voter restrictions, and Senate inaction—particularly from Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema—[that] threaten to turn back the clock on election freedom and our ability as a community to build power and make gains economically and with criminal justice reform.”
“Today is not just a holiday; it’s a call to action on voting rights,” she added. “If Senate Majority Leader Schumer and the rest of Senate Democrats really want to honor Dr. King’s legacy, then they must pass federal voting rights legislation immediately. And if the Republicans continue to perpetrate the big lie and aid in this slow-motion insurrection, the Senate Democrats must go it alone and carve out an exception to the filibuster to pass the legislation now.”