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Civil Rights Leaders Put Voting Rights Front And Center On MLK Day

Civil Rights Leaders Put Voting Rights Front And Center On MLK Day

Civil rights leaders are vowing to keep pressure on Congress to pass voting and election bills and to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, in the face of Senate delays on the legislation.

Martin Luther King III, the namesake son of the late civil rights leader who would have turned 93 on Saturday, said “the stakes could not be higher to protect and expand” his father’s legacy as the national holiday honoring him approaches Monday. “Senators now face one of the most existential choices of their tenure: protect our voting rights or go down in history as an enabler of voter suppression,” King said in a statement last week.

The Senate is expected to take up the voting legislation on Tuesday, which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had previously pledged to vote on by Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And though Schumer cited Covid-19 and an impending winter storm as reasons to push the vote, Democrats are desperately searching for a way to pass the legislation amid pressure from President Joe Biden while facing grim odds in their own party. Influential moderate Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, two Democrats who have long expressed opposition to changing filibuster rules — necessary to get the bills over the finish line — remain unmoved.

King III, who has held discussions with Manchin on the issue but has not been able to secure a meeting with Sinema, said he is disappointed by the senators’ stance. “History will remember Senator Sinema unkindly. While Sen. Sinema remains stubborn in her ‘optimism,’ Black and Brown Americans are losing their right to vote,” he said in a statement on Thursday. “She’s siding with the legacy of Bull Connor and George Wallace instead of the legacy of my father and all those who fought to make real our democracy.”

On Saturday, the King family marked Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in Arizona, where they made their latest push for the President and Congress to pass the voting rights legislation. “Today, on my father’s 93rd birthday, we are not here to celebrate,” King III stressed. “We are here to issue an urgent call to President Biden and the Senate…” he explained, to pass two measures aimed at strengthening voting rights nationwide, the Freedom to Vote Act, and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and “a dire warning to the entire nation that our democracy stands on the brink without it,” King III added, before a crowd at Eastlake Park Amphitheater in Phoenix. “Earlier this week, the President said he’s tired of being quiet about voting rights. Well, we are tired of being patient.”

President Biden has thrown his full support behind changing the Senate filibuster rules to pass the legislation, delivering a forceful speech in Georgia — a state that has been an epicenter of the civil rights movement and is now a battleground for voting rights — and making a trip to Capitol Hill to press his party to act. But the President has conceded that he is unsure whether Democrats will be able to succeed — although Vice President Kamala Harris said on Friday that the administration will “keep fighting.”

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Civil rights leaders have also vowed to not back down. “The President, of course, has a stake in the Voting Rights Act because he cannot win without it,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson recently told CNN. “The stakes are very high in this situation.”

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