United States Capitol in Washington, DC
Liu Jie | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images
Thousands of protesters gathered in Washington and other U.S. cities on Saturday to demand protection of voting rights, in a bid to pressure lawmakers to pass legislation to counter a wave of voting restrictions in Republican-led states.
Held on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic march on Washington in 1963, the organizers of the “March for Washington and Voting Rights” stressed that measures to restrict access to the vote would disproportionately affect people of color.
In Washington, protesters waving “Black Lives Matter” flags and signs calling for federal legislation marched from McPherson Square to the final meeting point at the National Mall, where a series of civil rights leaders delivered remarks no far from where King uttered his iconic “I Speech Have a Dream” 58 years ago.
More than 20,000 people took part in the march, said Reverend Al Sharpton in a post on Twitter. Rallies were also held in Phoenix, Miami and dozens of other cities.
Activist Carolyn Ruff, 74, said she traveled from Chicago to Washington to pass federal law that would restore key protections in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which banned discriminatory election practices.
The bill, named after the late civil rights hero and longtime congressman John Lewis, was approved in the United States House of Representatives this week but faces poor prospects in the Senate in because of rules that allow a minority to block legislation.
Lewis’s younger brother urged Republican senators to put partisanship aside and pass the law, saying basic rights guaranteed in the 1960s were at stake.
“Just think 58 years later we’re still fighting for those same rights. Something about that doesn’t sound right,” Grant Lewis told the crowd. “It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle you are on. It’s more important to be on the right side of the story.”
After Democrat Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, Republican lawmakers in many states restricted the use of drop boxes and postal voting. The moves came after former Republican President Donald Trump tried unsuccessfully to annul the election based on unsubstantiated allegations of widespread voter fraud.
So far this year, at least 18 states have enacted laws restricting voter access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
In addition to John Lewis’ Advancement of Voting Rights Act, a larger voting reform bill passed the House earlier this year, but Senate Republicans blocked it in June. , arguing that voting rules should be left to states.
The lack of significant Republican support appears to doom any legislation in the Senate, which is split 50-50 across parties and where filibuster rules mean Democrats must secure the votes of 10 Republicans to move measures forward.
Kathleen Kennedy, 27, said she joined the Washington March after reading a law in Texas that gained national attention after Democratic lawmakers fled the state in an attempt to deny the necessary quorum to Republicans to pass it.
The bill, which would ban drive-thru 24-hour voting locations and add new identification requirements to postal voting, among other restrictions, was approved by the state’s House of Representatives on Friday.
“So many of these laws are passed. Elections are approaching, elections will be impacted by these laws,” said Kennedy, a resident of Silver Spring, Md. “It’s worth ending the filibuster.”
Some speakers also promoted the idea of making the national capital the next state. A coalition of groups advocating for a state in Washington, DC, called 51 for 51, was one of the main organizers of Saturday’s event.