Civil Rights activists will converge on Washington D.C.’s National Mall Saturday (Aug. 28) to mark the anniversary of the historic March on Washington. But this time the focus for the groups and advocates attending will be to pressure Democrats to protect voting rights which have been under threat since the November election.
Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network,will be speaking at the event and said this is a crucial year for voting rights and to bring awareness to what can happen.
“We decided to come to Washington this year to really weigh in heavily on this voting issue, because it's central to what we do and civil rights,” Sharpton told BET.com in an interview. “From healthcare to dealing with educational equality, dealing with economic development, everything we want is based on who is in the Senate and the Congress.”
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A number of states where the GOP is a majority have approved or are finalizing laws that make it more difficult for citizens to access the voting booth. At the same time, Congressional Democrats have thus far been unable to get two key pieces of voting rights legislation to President Joe Biden's desk.
Former president Donald Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him despite voter fraud being repeatedly disproven. Yet that falsehood has led to a number of states restricting voting rights as Republicans say they need stricter measures to protect people’s votes.
Sharpton says this reasoning is bogus, but it has gotten support recently because as demographics shift, there’s a fear among some whites that they are losing political ground. He explains, “That compounded with four years of the drumbeat of racism by Donald Trump. We've always had racists, we’ve always had white supremacy, but never so crystallized in modern times.
“All of that creates this climate that has, in many ways, given energy to the whole voter suppression movement,” he continued. “All of that is why we're seeing what he was seeing around the country, no fraud as I said. But the reality that if Blacks come out and vote and we can’t outnumber them, what do you do? You cheat.”
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For the second year in a row, the commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington, which famously featured Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic “I Have A Dream” speech, will see advocates demanding Black people’s voting rights be upheld.
Among many of the groups who will be taking part in the new event, dubbed “March On for Voting Rights,” include Dr. King’s son and civil rights activist Martin Luther King III, and his wife Andrea Waters King. Also participating will be political advocacy group March On, racial justice group the Drum Major Institute (which was founded by Dr. King), the National Action Network and the SEIU, a labor organization representing service workers.
In addition to the march in Washington, marches are scheduled to take place in Atlanta, Miami, Phoenix and Houston, major cities in states where new voting laws have been passed since the beginning of the year. Virtual marches nationwide are also planned.
Saturday's event comes on the heels of voting rights legislation named after former Rep. John Lewis, the late Georgia congressman and civil rights champion, passing the House on Tuesday (Aug. 24).
The bill would restore the federal preclearance put in place by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was greatly weakened by the 2013 Supreme Court Shelby v. Holder decision. In 1965, the preclearance made it so that the Jim Crow South - and other places with a history of discriminatory voting rights practices -- were required to gain approval from the Department of Justice before implementing any change to voting procedures.
The Voting Rights Act, which outlaws states and other jurisdictions from implementing voting procedures that discriminate against Americans on the basis of race, color or membership in a language minority group, would also be strengthened by the Lewis-named bill.
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Democrats hold a majority in the House so it was expected that H.R. 4 would pass. The real challenge before the law comes from the Senate, where 10 GOP senators will need to vote for the bill for it to overcome the filibuster.
Sharpton says this is a tall order, but it’s one that can be overcome with the support and activism of every citizen who cares about voting rights. He says the situation is more grave than people realize.
“What I've been saying for the past weeks,” reminds Sharpton, “is that we've seen them remove these Confederate statues from colleges, universities, public squares, and rightfully so. Take the segregationist statues down, but they’re still using the M.O. inside those buildings. Don't take a statue down of the racists and leave the filibuster inside -- the practice that enforces racism The legislative relic of racism is the filibuster. And we need to take that down too!”
More information on the March On for Voting Rights is available through the National Action Network or toll free at 1-877-626-4651.