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Marchers Pay Tribute to King, Call on Senate to Pass Suffrage Legislation

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Marchers Pay Tribute to King, Call on Senate to Pass Suffrage Legislation

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WASHINGTON — Each year, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is commemorated with marches, services and speeches. But the annual peace march on the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge had an additional goal on Monday: pushing the Senate to pass new voting rights legislation.

The recess came a day before the Senate returned to debate what should be a wasted effort to pass the legislation. Despite the near certain defeat, suffrage campaigners, Democratic officials and those close to Dr King said they were not giving up.

“I hope they do the right thing tomorrow,” said DaMareo Cooper, co-chair of the Center for Popular Democracy, a progressive advocacy group. “But if not, expect to hear from our communities. Expect this isn’t just something you can do and hide behind the filibuster.

He added: “We are paying attention. We will be on the street. We will protect our rights.

Speakers at a press conference after the march sharply criticized Senate members and President Biden for their failure to pass electoral reforms as they focused on other Democratic priorities — and as the rights of voters eroded under Supreme Court rulings and laws passed by Republican state legislatures. that make it more difficult for people of color to vote.

“We’ve seen what President Biden and Senate Democrats can do when they engage,” said Arndrea Waters King, president of the Drum Major Institute – a liberal political group – and wife of Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of Dr. King. “They introduced a landmark bill that will improve our nation’s infrastructure,” she said, referring to the $1 trillion infrastructure package that was signed into law in November.

Other speakers at the event had sharp words for two centrist Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who say they support the legislation but rejected a filibuster overhaul that would allow Democrats to pass the bill with votes. only from their caucus.

‘History will not remember them kindly,’ Mr King said, recounting his father’s criticism of the ‘white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice’.

He added that Dr King was “surrounded by people who told him to wait for a more opportune time and to use more pleasant methods”.

“Fifty-nine years later,” Mr. King continued, “it’s the same old song and dance.”

Legislation proposed in the Senate would combine two separate bills already passed by the House: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Advancing Voting Rights Act. The bills, among other changes, seek to roll back restrictions imposed in Republican-run states and restore parts of the voting rights law that were weakened by the Supreme Court.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser of Washington and House Democratic lawmakers — including Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus — appeared with the King family and law activists to vote to request the adoption of the measure. in the Senate.

Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union, also spoke out in favor of the legislation. Ms Pringle has used her position in the union to advance racial equity measures.

Ms. Pelosi, noting that all Democratic members of Congress support the suffrage legislation, said “it’s just the filibuster, in a way,” that is preventing its passage.

She added: “If you really, really want to honor Dr. King, don’t dishonor him by using a congressional custom as an excuse to protect our democracy.”

Vice President Kamala Harris also briefly addressed the Senate deadlock during a short appearance at Martha’s Table, a food charity in Washington, as she packed groceries as part of a service Monday.

“As I said before, there are a hundred members in the United States Senate,” Ms Harris said when asked about Mr Manchin and Ms Sinema. “And I’m not going to absolve any of them.”

Mr. Biden, who was in Wilmington, Del., over the holiday weekend, had no appearances scheduled until he returned to Washington in the evening. But in a brief, prerecorded speech posted on Twitter before the march began, the president tied the demand for new suffrage legislation to Dr. King’s legacy.

“It’s not enough to congratulate him,” Mr Biden said of Dr King. “We must engage in his unfinished work, to create jobs and justice, to protect the sacred right to vote, the right from which all other rights flow.”

“The attack on our democracy is real,” the president added. “From the Jan. 6 insurrection to the onslaught of Republican anti-vote laws in a number of states. It’s not just about who votes anymore; it’s about who counts the vote and whether your vote counts at all.

The King family and other activists and lawmakers recounted moments from the nation’s civil rights history to support their calls for reform and warn of what they said were the consequences of failure: a rollback of rights. civics and a new generation of voters of color who are less empowered than their parents. They even raised the specter of violence, such as the brutality that occurred in Selma, Alabama, on Bloody Sunday.

“We are once again on this precipice,” said Rep. Terri A. Sewell of Alabama, a Democrat whose district includes Selma.

“This is our mountain moment,” she added. “Are we going to give up? To abandon? Or will we keep moving forward? »

Marchers Pay Tribute to King, Call on Senate to Pass Suffrage Legislation

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