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)

Even in the midst of a global pandemic, masses of people from across the country are expected to converge on the National Mall at the end of this month to commemorate the historic March on Washington, promote the 2020 Census and advocate for the passage of federal legislation that protects voting rights and strengthens police accountability.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, whose organization has taken the lead in hosting what’s been called an intergenerational and inclusive day of action, recently reflected on the significance of this event, particularly as it relates to the Voting Rights Act which he described as a target of conservatives attempting to disenfranchise people of color.

“The Supreme Court wouldn’t change the whole thing, they would take out Section 4. That took out the map with the states and counties,” Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network (NAN), told an audience at the House of Justice Auditorium in New York City on August 1 as he explained the events surrounding Shelby County v. Holder.

The 2013 Supreme Court case between President Barack Obama’s Justice Department and the government of Shelby County, Alabama resulted in the removal of a key Voting Rights Act provision benefitting voters living in counties and states reported to have a pattern of voter discrimination.

“They threw it back to Congress to reenact with a map that was up to date. That’s the John Lewis bill,” Sharpton continued as he argued for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. If passed, the legislation would protect not only voters in select states but throughout the nation.

Last year, the bill, which also allows the Justice Department to appoint election observers, passed the Democratic-controlled House. In the days following Lewis’ pancreatic cancer-related death, a cohort of senators called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to the Senate floor for a vote.

“If we had that bill, [state and county governments] wouldn’t be able to change things without clearing it through the Justice Department,” Sharpton said. “That means Brian Kemp couldn’t have moved all those voting sites and beat Stacey Abrams for governor of Georgia.”

“That means those tricks played in Florida couldn’t have happened. So we need that bill to be introduced [with] a new map. That’s one of the reasons why we’re going to Washington. Don’t memorialize John Lewis and leave the Voting Rights Act not intact.”

NAN’s March on Washington, scheduled to take place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, observes the 57th anniversary of the 1963 mass gathering during which the late Lewis and The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. served as speakers.

This event will be co-convened by Sharpton and Martin Luther King III with the theme “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” – an allusion to George Floyd whose on-camera police-related death sparked protests across the globe going on more than eight weeks.

Partners include the NAACP, the National Urban League and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

More About the March Yet to Be Confirmed

As of press time, the National Park Service has yet to issue a permit for the March on Washington. An NPS representative told The Informer that logistical and security concerns have to be addressed in the weeks leading up to the event.

Sharpton and others have spent an untold number of hours promoting these points as protests for racial justice continue to rage throughout the U.S., and protesters in Portland and other American cities go toe to toe with federal military personnel. Other pieces of legislation championed by march organizers would impose a federal ban on the police chokehold and make public the disciplinary records of officers who have a history of using excessive force.

In the District, a group of mothers affected by police brutality, including Marion Gray-Hopkins and Kenethia Alston, are reportedly gearing up to participate in the commemorative march, during which they would be allowed to highlight ongoing cases and on-the-ground advocacy unfolding in the nation’s capital.

While people involved with the march declined to speak about logistics, they did hint at collaboration going beyond August 28 that would align the work being done locally with national efforts.

“After the march is the real work,” Nia 2X, president of NAN’s D.C. chapter told The Informer.

“While the National Action Network’s D.C. chapter continues fighting for justice after the historic march, the national leadership is working to have federal legislation become law so that the problems we experience across the country with law enforcement are viewed better with a national law in place.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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