Activists and leaders for D.C. statehood support and plan to participate in the 16th annual Peace Walk that will take place in Ward 8 on Jan. 17, the day the country officially celebrates the birthday and life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., despite their cause not being central to the event.
The focus of the Peace Walk will be to urge the U.S. Senate to consider the Freedom to Vote Act of 2021 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, organizers say.
The Freedom to Vote Act addresses voter registration and voting access, election integrity and security, redistricting and campaign finance laws with the thrust of the bill to ensure that eligible Americans can participate without hurdles in the political process.
The John Lewis bill would restore sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 in the case of Shelby County vs. Holder.
Members of the King Family, including Martin Luther King III, Arndrea King, his wife, and their daughter, Yolanda Renee King, will join other civil and human rights activists and congressional leaders, including U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), during the Peace Walk in the District.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the sponsor of The Washington, D.C. Admission Act of 2021 in the House and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a staunch statehood supporter, have confirmed their participation as well.
Among other participants, there will be members of several pro-statehood organizations: Stand Up! for Democracy in DC Coalition; 51 for 51; and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the only Black Greek letter fraternal organization to officially embrace the city’s right to self-determination.
However, there have been murmurs from some statehood activists that the cause will take a secondary place in actions on fighting voter suppression even though the Peace Walk will be held in the city.
Bo Shuff, executive director of DC Vote, said nothing could be further from the truth. He said he doesn’t feel offended that D.C. statehood will not count as a central focus of the Peace Walk.
“I have not talked to the organizers of the national portion of the MLK Peace Walk but I do understand their strategy,” he said. “The reason they are focusing on the Freedom to Vote and John Lewis Advancement Act has to do with the order of bills in the Senate. Both of those bills have solid Democratic support with 50 senators. The Washington, D.C. Admission Act of 2021 has the strong support of 46 senators, all Democrats co-sponsoring the bill and we have the possibility of getting 48 Democrats, but we are not at 50.”
Shuff said eliminating the filibuster, a procedural tool in the Senate where legislation can only proceed to the floor if there are 60 votes to advance, has become the real purpose of the Peace Walk.
“This is really a push to eliminate the filibuster,” Shuff said. “The strategy is to put the Freedom to Vote and John Lewis Act first as a way to eliminate the filibuster, at least for those bills. If that is done, then the D.C. statehood bill, operating under the rules of those other two bills, can be considered by the Senate later.”
Shuff said he has no doubt of the King family’s support of D.C. statehood.
“Members of the King family support statehood and I have seen them wear T-shirts indicating that,” he said.
Oye Owolewa, the District’s shadow representative, said the Peace Walk and its thrust serve a purpose and send a clear message.
“D.C. having two votes in the Senate can be the deciding votes on legislation stopping voter suppression,” Owolewa said. “We can also make a difference in the Senate on other progressive legislation and help to stop the filibuster. In the District, we care about voting rights and people having the right to vote and that is why we need to step up and become the next state.”
Owolewa said he didn’t see the Peace Walk’s lack of emphasis on statehood as a snub.
“I see it as an opportunity for the people around the country to know where we stand on progressive issues,” he said. “People in the progressive movement tend to operate in silos. If D.C. residents get involved in other issues such as canceling student debt or climate change, I think that will help our D.C. statehood cause. It is important that we get our story told and our voices heard.”