Thousands march on Washington in voting rights push

Thousands are marching in Washington, D.C., and across the country on Saturday in a push to pass federal voting rights legislation.

Saturday marked the 58th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. This year’s rally comes as voting rights take center stage, with GOP-controlled legislatures considering or passing bills that would restrict ballot box access.

Organizers began gathering at 8 a.m. at McPherson Square and marched along Black Lives Matter Plaza toward the National Mall.

“What do we want? Voting rights! When do we want them? Now!” shouted one group of demonstrators marching with Black Lives Matter signs.

The Rev. Al Sharpton was seen earlier on Saturday marching down 15th Avenue toward Constitution Avenue. Also in the video were Texas Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D) and Al Green (D).

The three were among roughly a dozen speakers who addressed over 20,000 supporters Saturday afternoon against the backdrop of the U.S. Capitol. 

Speaking to the crowd, Sharpton said the rally was held in front of the Capitol to show “how you come to the Capitol,” referencing the violent events of Jan. 6. 

“You saw an insurrection against people’s right to vote. Today you saw 20,000 walked through the streets to the Capitol to represent Dr. King’s resurrection of the right to vote,” Sharpton said. “No windows broke, nobody harmed. No disorder. This is how you come to the Capitol.”

Federal voting rights legislation has been a top Democratic priority following the election as Republicans continue to push former President Trump’s claims that the election was stolen.

According to March On, the organizer of the rally, 48 states have introduced 389 bills since January that it says amount to “outright voter suppression.”

Such legislation became highly contentious in Texas when a group of 50 state House Democrats fled to Washington, D.C., to deny the chamber a quorum and prevent the passage of a controversial voting reform bill.

The Texas House on Friday passed the legislation, which limits early voting hours and implements new voter ID requirements for mail-in voting. It also creates harsher penalties for voter fraud.

The House has passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore the provision of the Voting Rights Act that outlaws jurisdictions from implementing voting procedures that discriminate on the basis or race, color or membership in a language minority group.

But any voting rights measure faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Democrats do not have the votes to break through a legislative filibuster. 

Speaking on the National Mall Saturday, members of Congress called on the upper chamber to nix the filibuster and pass voting reform. 

Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), who sponsored the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, told the crowd that this was the first time she introduced the measure without the late Georgia congressman for whom it’s named.

“We work tirelessly to come up with a modern day formula to put the full protections of the Voting Rights Act back into our law,” Sewell said. “Now more than ever, we need your mobilization. We need you to participate, and we need you to call our senators and tell them they must pass H.R. 4 now.

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) called out moderate Democrats who have said they would not support nixing the filibuster.

“These senators cling to the dangerous illusion that 10 Republican senators of good conscience are somehow going to join them in the fight for democracy,” Jones said. “Good senators have found comfort in a White House that has failed the call for an end to the Jim Crow filibuster.”

Rallies were also held in Atlanta, Houston, Miami and Phoenix — cities in states where controversial voting legislation has passed.

In Atlanta, Bernice King, Martin Luther King’s daughter, spoke of the urgency of passing voting rights legislation, telling the crowd that the nation was in a “state of emergency.”

“Voting rights is not an evanescent domestic issue that can be kicked about by reactionary guardians of the status quo. It is rather an eternal moral issue, which may well determine the destiny of our nation. The hour is late, the clock of destiny is ticking out, and we must act now before it’s too late,” Bernice King said.

“The most significant threat to our democracy is principled men and women’s voices remaining silent on this issue and failing to yield to conscience by standing against laws that restrict access to vote,” she added.

Civil rights activist Ben Jealous led the crowd in Atlanta in a chant encouraging President Biden call for an end to the senate filibuster.

“Hey, hey! Hey, Joe! The filibuster has got to go!” Jealous chanted.

The march was held outside of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was pastor. His daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, is expected to speak.

Updated: 4:30 p.m.

Tags Al Green Civil Rights Act Civil rights movement Donald Trump Filibuster in the United States Senate Joe Biden John Lewis John Lewis Voting Rights Act Sheila Jackson Lee Terri Sewell Voter suppression Voting Rights Act Walter Shaub

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