This week’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday observances focused squarely on voting rights. Hundreds of voting rights supporters converged on the nation’s capital on the King holiday. They marched across the Frederick Douglass Bridge carrying signs and banners while chanting strong messages to members of the U.S. Senate to pass two significant voting rights bills this week.
Most observers, including the media, are already pronouncing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act dead due to all 50 Senate Republicans and two Democrats – Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia – refusal to vote for the bills. What stands in the way is the proposed end to the filibuster, a process by which a member of the minority party can simply prolong a debate without voting. It is a tactic that has been allowed and amended by both political parties since the early 1800s, and the proposed change in the current bills Republicans charge is unacceptable.
Joining demonstrations across the country and in D.C. on Monday was the family of Dr. King. Martin Luther King III, his wife Arndrea and daughter Yolanda, who called upon the nation to adhere to “No celebration without legislation.” But it was 13-year-old Yolanda who brought the message home to marchers and students at the National Cathedral, “If you are 9 years or older, and you look like me, then you will have fewer voting rights on your 18th birthday than the day you were born.”
Yolanda and young people here and across the county have declared their commitment to protecting the right to vote. Student essayists who addressed the theme: “Is voting the vehicle for effective change?” promised to be the generation that fights equally as hard to protect voting rights for their children and grandchildren as their ancestors did for them. The lives lost and the battles won “are empowering,” Yolanda said, because 50 years later, “we are following in their footsteps on Freedom’s Road.”
Despite the Senate’s actions or inaction, or the state’s laws to suppress the vote, or individual actions to discourage and intimidate voters, the fight for voting rights will not end. The children have spoken.