- Thousands came to Washington and other US cities to push for passage of voting-rights legislation.
- House Democrats have passed voting legislation, only to see it stymied by the Senate filibuster.
- Advocates are pushing to counter restrictive voting bills that are being enacted in many states.
Thousands of people on Saturday marched in the nation’s capital to commemorate the 58th anniversary of the March on Washington in 1963 — seeking to push Congress to pass federal voting-rights legislation to counter the raft of restrictive voting bills being implemented in states across the country.
Organizers for the March On for Voting Rights, which in addition to Washington, DC, is taking place in Atlanta, Houston, Miami, and Phoenix, are using the event to call out voter suppression and push for fair elections.
On the way to the National Mall, marchers advocated for lawmakers to pass voting-rights measures that have stalled in Congress — the For the People Act (H.R. 1) and the John Lewis Voting Advancement Act (H.R. 4).
The For the People Act, the Democratic Party’s marquee voting-rights bill, would end partisan gerrymandering, expand early and absentee voting, establish national standards for voter registration, and blunt voter purges, among other things. The bill would also mandate that states offer mail-in ballots and same-day voter registration, which conservatives have long resisted in many states.
The House has passed the sweeping bill, but it has stalled in the Senate — Democrats need 60 votes to advance the legislation and Republicans have refused to sign on to H.R. 1, even filibustering the bill in June — fueled by opposition from former President Donald Trump, who has long propagated unsubstantiated claims of voting fraud.
The John Lewis Voting Act, named after the civil-rights icon and longtime Congressman who passed away last year, would notably restore federal pre-clearance requirements from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were weakened in the 2013 Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder. For decades, states and jurisdictions with histories of discrimination were required to obtain permission from the federal government before making voting changes or new legislative maps.
The legislation, which passed the House in a 219-212 party-line vote on Tuesday, faces an uncertain future in the Senate.
Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama, who represents the cradle of the civil-rights movement, is the sponsor of H.R. 4 and invoked the legacy of Lewis in calling for passage of the bill.
“Here we are, marching to do our own work. As long as a Supreme Court is hellbent on rolling back voter rights, Selma is now,” she said. “As long as we have a Senate that is so entrenched with having a procedural vote called a filibuster and not restoring our voting rights, Selma is now.”
She added: “Old battles have become new again. Modern day suppression is alive and well, and we have to do our part to roll it back.”
‘You’re not going to filibuster away our voting protections’
Democrats control the Senate in the 50-50 chamber by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaking vote, but the party has been unable to meet the 60-vote threshold to overcome legislative filibusters on its voting-rights bills.
Progressive lawmakers have urged moderate Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to weaken or eliminate the filibuster in order to pass voting-rights legislation, but they have steadfastly chosen to keep the practice in place, pointing to a need to preserve bipartisanship.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, one of the organizers of the march, gave a rousing speech in support of voting rights — arguing that the filibuster could not stand in the way of progress.
“We will not sit by and allow you to filibuster our right to vote,” he said. “We paid too high a price. People died to give us the right to vote. People spent nights in jail to give us the right to vote. People lost their lives to give us to give us the right to vote.”
He added: “There is no filibuster that can stand in the way of a people determined to get their rights. That’s why in the blistering heat, we came to Washington to say, ‘You’re not going to filibuster away our voting protections.'”
Despite the legislative setbacks, civil rights and labor leaders have called voting rights an extension of the ideals espoused by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
On Saturday, King’s son, Martin Luther King III, spoke out forcefully for federal voting-rights legislation.
“We are a force of nature,” he said. “This is a battlefield of morals and you are armed with the truth and the truth is a flame, you cannot extinguish. People have done it before, and we’ll do it again. We will demand federal voting rights until we have them. So don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t give out. You are the dream, and this is our moment to make it true.”
Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones of New York, a first-term lawmaker who has called for the abolition of the filibuster and an expansion of the Supreme Court, warned the crowd of GOP rule if voting-rights legislation falls by the wayside.
“If we fail to act in this moment, we are on a path by which democracy dies in darkness,” he said. “Allow me to paint a future of that dark future for you. Thanks to partisan gerrymandering, the party of Donald Trump will take back control of the House next year, even as Democrats continue to win more votes nationwide.”
He added: “The party of Donald Trump would also take back the United States Senate through voter suppression in states like Georgia, and we gotta make sure that Raphael Warnock comes back to the Senate.”
Organizers of the march also hoped to point to issues such as reparations for descendants of slavery, a $15 minimum wage, student loan debt cancelation, statehood for Washington, DC, and criminal justice reform, among other issues.