As Senate Republicans deny Americans a debate on S. 2093, the newly introduced Senate version of the For the People Act, a caravan of modern-day freedom riders are headed to Washington, D.C. Crossing into South Carolina on Tuesday, the Black Voters Matter Bus caravan continues its journey to the nation’s capital, rallying communities and demanding meaningful action on voting rights and D.C. statehood along the way.
On Juneteenth, the group gathered in Jackson, Mississippi, for the official kick-off event. More than a holiday, organizers saw Juneteenth as an opportunity for a call to action. In an interview with NewsOne, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the battle about protecting and expanding ballot access was ultimately about power.
“When we talk about the effort to strip away and to create every barrier to voting rights, we’re ultimately talking about an effort to make sure that we remain away from the table,” Lumumba said. “That sees to the fact that people are availed of the resources that they need. Not only in an economic sense, because our people are not only fighting for access to capital, but they’re fighting for access to live.”
Quoting author Franz Fanon, Lumumba said each generation had a mission to fulfill. He wanted to make sure that as groups encourage young people to organize and get registered, such organizations help young people see their value in the process.
“We demonstrate to them our objective of striving for the ability to not only have them participate in the democratic process but to democratize power itself, where they play a vital role in the day to day building of communities,” Lumumba shared.
When most people think of Mississippi, there is focus or attention on the southern horrors and terror that have befallen Black people in the state. Convening in Jackson was important as the state’s capital and as a hub for Black political power.
The Magnolia State is home to a long history of resistance, such as the Deacons of Defense, the formation of the Republic of New Africa, and student organizers from Tougaloo College, where Saturday’s festivities took place.
Organizers led by Mississippi Votes Executive Director Arekia Bennett quickly changed locations Saturday after reports of rain. Tougaloo College once served as a major organizing hub during the civil rights movement.
“There is a promissory note due to the voters of Georgia,” Mosley said. “We risked our lives voting not once but twice. We delivered the U.S. Senate. We have given the power to the left, and now we need them to use that power.”
Mosley said the Freedom Ride for Voting Rights drew on the history of the original freedom ride sixty years ago. She said people from as far away as California and Arizona joined this year’s freedom ride.
Mosley called voting a path to freedom and justice, and liberation.
“When we are able to vote, we are able to exercise power,” she said. “That’s when we have a say and who’s in seats at the table who make decisions that affect our Black bodies every single day in this country… it’s the pathway to fixing everything else that has wronged us in this country.”
Timothy Hughes, the Tennessee state coordinator for Black Voters Matter, said the tour was also about celebrating the life and legacy of the original Freedom Riders, some of whom were able to join the tour at several stops. He explained the tour was also important for helping communities connect the dots between the current voting rights fight and other issues impacting Black communities.
“It is critically important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is ongoing, that people who are trying to reconstruct their lives and rebuild for the future get the resources, support, and government action that we absolutely require at this moment,” Hughes said. “We continue to push forward and show that we have the ability to have self-determination in our communities.”
Also drawing on the pandemic, Lumumba similarly connected the tour with an opportunity to reflect on historical disparities. He pointed to the importance of understanding the conditions impacting people’s lives, which in the case of the pandemic meant accounting for historical mistrust of medical institutions and the fact that many in Mississippi were without even regular primary health care.
The Freedom Ride for Voting Rights tour will continue through Saturday with stops in Raleigh, Charleston, West Virginia, Richmond and ending in Washington. The Black Voters Matter Twitter account has been tweeting updates from the tour, including ways people can get involved from anywhere in the country.
“This country is beginning to shift,” said Mosley. “It has become a little Blacker and a little browner every single day.” She emphasized that those currently in power feel it slipping through their fingers. “They are desperate,” Mosley said. “And desperate people do desperate things.”
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