A quiet revolution in the nation’s capital has gained national attention as protesters are risking their lives to ensure voting rights. It’s a movement that calls for Congress to pass and President Biden to sign the Freedom to Vote Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
National radio talk show host and human rights activist Joe Madison announced on November 8 that he would launch a hunger strike and “abstain from eating any solid food” on November 22 to press for passage of the bill that would restore parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, including protections minority voters.
Voting rights advocates want to see rulings made by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 and last July reversed. They want states and other jurisdictions to obtain preclearance before changes to voting practices can take effect and they are calling for the removal of limits on minority participation in the voting process.
The bill passed the House of Representatives in July but it was stalled in the Senate in November by Republicans who blocked it from proceeding to debate. Only one Republican, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, reportedly voted in favor of allowing the bill to proceed to debate.
“Hunger strikes have been used as a means of political protest as long as there have been politics and resistance,” Madison, 72, announced on his Sirius XM broadcast. “It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, with my background in human and civil rights, that I have chosen this form of dissent for what I believe should be a redress for what is just plain politically and morally wrong,”
U.S. Senator Michael D. Brown this week launched a hunger strike of his own to support Madison but to also bring attention to D.C. statehood. “As the ground swell for national voting rights expands, I want to make sure that D.C. statehood is not lost in the push for voter rights protection,” Brown said. He is asking supporters to join him for a one-day a week fast for freedom. He said he plans to fast on Mondays.
The irony of the moment is how strongly a few feel and are willing to go for the rights of others – in this case, voting rights. Neither Madison nor Brown, 68, can afford a hunger strike due to the stress it will place on their bodies. While neither of them are new to protests, their decision to refrain from eating life sustaining food should embolden others to join the fight using any means necessary in order to get Congress to hear how important voters feel about protecting the right to vote.
We can’t say whether this cause is worth dying for to those willing to take the risk but we can tell legislators that the lives of these and other passionate warriors rest in their hands. They have committed not to eat until legislators do the right thing for voting rights and D.C. statehood.