Dems push for voting protections at March on Washington anniversary event

Top House Democratic leaders on Saturday used speeches at a commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington to push for a new Voting Rights Act to protect access to the polls. 

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Speaking back-to-back, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) each recalled the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to urge a crowd of thousands on the Mall to keep up the fight for civil rights, both for African Americans and for women.

“When women succeed, America succeeds,” Pelosi said. “When people of color succeed, America succeeds.”

Pelosi, the first woman Speaker, said she was on the Mall for King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech a half century ago. Looking out over the throng, she asked, “So who among you is going to be Speaker of the House, or president of the United States?”

She noted that King’s memorial statue now sits beside presidents, “so appropriately,” but she said his dream was not to be personally celebrated but to have his agenda enacted. She called for new voting rights laws, an increase in the minimum wage and guarantees for paid sick leave for workers.

Echoing the message of others, Hoyer said that Barack Obama’s election as the nation’s first black president “testifies to the progress we’ve made” but that more needed to be done, particularly to guarantee access to the ballot box.

“We are here, all of us, here to declare that we shall not rest nor we should be satisfied by the way things stand,” Hoyer said. “Too many have no voice in our democracy.”

Pelosi and Hoyer spoke shortly after Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who is bidding to become the second African American currently serving in the Senate.

“The dream still demands that, the moral conscience of our country still calls us, that hope still needs heroes,” Booker said

Booker listed gun violence, a justice system “that treats the economically disadvantaged and minorities differently than others," stagnant wages, child poverty and income inequality as examples that “we still have work to do.”

“My generation, we can’t sit back now thinking democracy is a spectator sport.” he said. “Democracy demands action.”

“I call upon my generation to understand that we can never pay back the struggles and sacrifice of the generation before,” Booker said. “But it is our moral obligation to pay it forward.”

“We still live in a country where anything is possible.”

--Kyle Balluck contributed.

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