Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network hosts the annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 16. (Travis Riddick/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** Rev. Al Sharpton (Travis Riddick/The Washington Informer)

Civil rights leaders declared a state of emergency for democracy at a virtual news conference on Sunday in lieu of a demonstration in D.C. commemorating the 59th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Leaders of such organizations as the National Urban League, NAACP, the National Action Network, and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation are calling on federal officials to use existing laws to protect the right to vote and guarantee the safety of poll workers; state officials to expand — not pare back — access to the ballot box, especially for disenfranchised communities; and all Americans to vote in the November general election and encourage two of their friends to cast a ballot.

“Each year, the anniversary of the March on Washington is an opportunity to reflect on the nation’s progress toward Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream,” said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. “This year, however, we reflect on how much of that progress has been eroded by the vicious backlash against racial justice and democratic principles that now engulf us.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, said “our union is at risk, in 2022, as states are systematically and relentlessly chipping away at the right to vote.”

“We are assembling today in that same spirit of 1963, to preserve the union and guarantee the right to vote for all Americans,” Sharpton said. “It is our mission to ensure every American is safe at the polls and can exercise their right to their fullest ability.”

Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, said the 1963 march wanted rights for people of color protected and that battle continues presently.

“Today, we find our rights and freedoms are once again under attack and our democracy is under threat—thanks to the rolling back of our rights by the U.S. Supreme Court, including voting rights and reproductive rights; the passage of regressive voter suppression laws targeting Black and Brown people being enacted by over 19 states over the past two years; the historic rise in racism and white nationalism across the country; and attack on our democracy and the ‘rule of law’ by white nationalism and insurrectionists,” she said.

Campbell joined her colleagues in saying the fight for the spirit and aims of the 1963 march must continue.

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