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It was hot and humid in DC on Saturday, and I was thoroughly drenched with sweat by the time the March On For Voting Rights arrived in front of the US Capitol. Soon after, the three-hour rally began, with almost all of the thousands there listening from the shelter of the tree shaded grass on either side of the National Mall.
For me, the high point of the program was the consecutive speeches toward the end by 13 year old Yolanda Renee King, Andrea Waters King and Martin Luther King III, respectively a granddaughter, daughter-in-law and son of Martin Luther King, Jr. All were good, substantive, and the fact that they are a family living and working very much in Dr. King’s spirit was personally moving. My life as an activist and organizer literally began on the day he was killed in 1968, so to see and hear his family descendants speaking out so clear and strong was no small thing.
Somewhere in the course of this long, hot day, leaving Newark, NJ on the People’s Organization for Progress (POP) bus at 4 am and getting back about 9 pm, my thinking and feelings about the importance of voting rights shifted. In a way I didn’t before the DC rally, I now feel much more strongly the urgency of the effort to get the US Senate to pass voting rights legislation now.
I’m afraid that too many of us who haven’t directly experienced voter suppression—white people—look upon the right to vote too intellectually, and not from the heart. Of course we support it, we’re democrats. Of course we support it, democracy requires it. If we didn’t support everyone who is eligible to vote being able to do so, it would go against our core beliefs.
Listening to the speakers and feeling the predominantly Black folks around me at the pre-march rally and during the march, it wasn’t the same. For African Americans it is literally a matter of life and death, grounded in centuries of slavery and Jim Crow segregation and institutionalized racism, underlined by today’s out-in-the-open efforts by Republican white supremacists in state legislatures around the country to hijack elections via voter suppression.
Voter suppression has practical results for all people. It could mean the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. It means the entrenchment of the power of the fossil fuel industry at a time when their hold over Washington and other politicians means escalating droughts, fires, major storms, floods and massive human and ecological damage. It means continued and even stepped up mass incarceration of mainly Black and Brown people. It means cutbacks in funds for housing, health care and education. The list is long.
As it turned out, I carried a big POP sign all throughout the march which said, “Stop the Filibuster.” It was a popular sign; lots of people kept coming up to take a picture of it. I was glad to carry it, and as I did so and then heard speakers talking about the need to end the filibuster, at the very least for voting rights related legislation, it became clear how essential this is in 2021. The only way to get something like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act passed is for all 50 Democratic Senators to vote for it and VP Harris to provide the winning vote.
The last speaker at the Capitol Rally, Rev. Al Sharpton, talked about the filibuster. He said we needed a bunch of “filibuster-busters.” He said, “maybe we need to pitch our tents on the Mall.”
Let’s all defend the right to vote this fall, by any and every means necessary!
Ted Glick is a volunteer organizer with Beyond Extreme Energy and author of Burglar for Peace: Lessons Learned in the Catholic Left’s Resistance to the Vietnam War, published last year. Past writings and other information can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at https://jtglick.com.