By Susana Samhan
Washington, Jan 17 (EFE).- The family of slain civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) marched on Monday along with hundreds of other people in Washington DC to demand that the US Senate approve a bill critical for protecting the right to vote, given the restrictions on exercising that right recently imposed by Republicans in many states.
On Martin Luther King Day, a US national holiday, the demand for voting rights protections was more strident than ever with 2022 being the year of mid-term elections and amid the restrictions Republican state legislatures around the country have placed on voting, moves that affect minorities above all.
The 13-year-old granddaughter of Dr. King, Yolanda Renee King, could not have been more clear before the march in her remarks from the stage set up for the occasion near the baseball stadium in the capital.
“Today in 2022 the right to vote is under attack. As our elected leaders try to silence our voices, at just 13 (years old) I have fewer voting rights than I did the day that I was born,” said the teen, who is still far below the legal voting age in the US.
In that regard, she demanded that senators – instead of celebrating the day as a mere holiday – devote themselves to legislating and move forward in Congress on Tuesday with a bill to protect the right to vote.
Given the restrictions imposed on voting at the state level by the GOP, Democrats are trying to get two bills approved: the so-called Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
The first bill establishes minimum federal requirements for early voting and voting by mail, while the second restores oversight by the Justice Department of any changes made in election laws in states that have a history of discrimination.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives, with its narrow Democratic majority, approved a bill that combines the two legislative initiatives and the text now moves to the Senate, which could begin debating it on Tuesday.
However, the draft of the bill has little chance of being approved in the upper house, where Democrats have the narrowest of margins – a 50-50 split with the GOP in terms of seats but where Vice President Kamala Harris, as president of the Senate, could cast a tiebreaking vote.
The poor prospects for the bill are due primarily to a legislative maneuver known as the filibuster which Republicans are using and which allows a minority to prevent debate in the 100-seat Senate on any bill if the supporters cannot muster a minimum of 60 votes to bring it to the floor.
Given this situation, President Joe Biden has come out in favor of modifying the filibuster to enable voting rights legislation to be passed with a simple majority, but moderate Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia have expressed their opposition to any move to do so, despite the fact that they say they support the bills to protect the right to vote.
Filibuster, Sinema and Manchin were the three words heard most on Monday among the marchers and in later remarks by members of the King family along with lawmakers and activists, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, at Union Station, the Washington DC train station.
One of the demonstrators, who identified herself as Thennie and as a director of youth programs in the District of Columbia, told EFE that she came to the march to denounce the filibuster and because the same issues about which Dr. King said “I have a dream” are those that “we’re fighting for now,” an allusion to King’s famous and stirring speech.
The marchers – to hip hop rhythms – moved across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge honoring the 19th century black writer, abolitionist and social reformer, whose writings contributed to moving the anti-slavery movement forward.
The bridge was selected by organizers as part of the march route to symbolize the support of Biden and Congress for the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill even as Democrats are unable, with the current Republican opposition, to get approval for bills that protect voting rights.
In that regard, Yolanda’s father and the son of Dr. King, Martin Luther King III, urged from Union Station that Biden, Manchin and Sinema get the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, as the combined measure is known, approved “now.”
King said that if Democrats can get a law passed to upgrade infrastructure for bridges, they can achieve the same thing for Americans’ votes. And if they cannot do so, he said, there’s no bridge in the country that can bear the weight of that failure.
From the White House, Harris, the first woman, African-American and person of Asian origin to occupy the post, said that now is the time for the US Senate to do its job and for a basic right to get to the Senate, namely the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act.
“The proponents of these laws (restricting voting rights) don’t just put obstacles in front of the ballot box; they are also working to influence our elections, to get the results they want and to discredit the results they don’t want. That’s not how democracy works,” Harris added.