As the Senate prepares for a showdown over the filibuster and passing needed voting rights reform, Martin Luther King Jr.’s son has just one question for Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, “Can you hear us? End the filibuster and give us the ballot!” Martin Luther King III joined Arizona residents and voting rights groups in a march Saturday, demanding action on voting rights legislation and the filibuster.
The Grand Canyon State is among the states rocked by the big lie last year, complete with a messy partisan election audit that reached a faulty analysis and inaccurate claims, according to an evaluation by Maricopa County. The Arizona march was a part of a major push by a national coalition of civil rights and affiliated organizations led by King, demanding action on voting rights in honor of the late civil rights icon.
Taifa Butler, president of Demos, told NewsOne that the attack on voting rights is driven by fear of the power of a multiracial coalition that will soon be the majority in the country. A part of the Deliver for Voting Rights coalition, Demos is a think-and-do tank that champions solutions to create a democracy and economy deeply rooted in racial equity.
“This is a fundamental question of whether or not we are going to have a just, inclusive multiracial democracy as America continues to grow,” Butler said. “And the trends tell us that we are on the brink of becoming a majority people of color nation, but in the next 20 to 40 years.”
She sees the current backlash to Black and other voters of color flexing their political power as a repeat of history.
“We want to ensure that the growing electorate can continue to have a say in our democracy,” Butler said. “We’ve got to ensure that these voter suppression tactics at the state level will not persist. And that’s why we need federal intervention.”
Butler also said that democracy is not just about accessing the ballot box. She says ballot access is about having a say over the economic forces shaping people’s lives and their ability to thrive.
“Make no mistake. There is a clear connection between political power and economic power,” Butler said. “Post pandemic where we’re looking at an economy that will never be the same again, how are we going to ensure the rules and the decisions that are made to help people be able to economically recover.”
Challenging the reluctance of certain Senators not wanting to suspend the filibuster for voting rights, Butler said Senators should not be able to stifle debate on the merit of an issue with an antiquated rule.
“This tool is being used to not even bring a bill to the floor so that Senators can go on record on whether or not they support the freedom of vote is problematic in and of itself,” Butler said.
In December, King called for Congress to #DeliverForVotingRights the same way it delivered on the bipartisan infrastructure package. Sinema announced last week she had no intention of supporting a filibuster exception for voting rights. Although she claims she is a supporter of voting rights, refusing to set aside an arbitrary rule blocking progress raises questions about her alleged commitment.
Shortly after King announced the demand for action on voting rights in honor of his father’s birthday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a statement taking up the challenge. In a memo to his caucus Wednesday, Schumer outlined the primary strategy to use existing rules to force a Senate debate on voting rights finally.
If the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, then how can we in good conscience allow for a situation in which the Republican Party can debate and pass voter suppression laws at the State level with only a simple majority vote, but not allow the United States Senate to do the same? In the coming days, we will most likely confront this sobering question – together.
Senate Republicans used the filibuster to block discussion of three voting rights bills last year; the For The People Act, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Replacing the For the People Act, the Freedom to Vote Act was crafted last summer as a compromise attempt to allow Sen. Joe Manchin to try to recruit some of his Republican friends to show up in a bipartisan fashion as they did on the infrastructure bill. He could not get one Republican to sign on to the bill.
Now the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act have been combined into one bill, the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. The House of Representatives has once again done its job in passing the impactful legislation, and now it is up to members of the Senate to have the moral courage and political will to act.
Last month, Senate Democrats carved out a filibuster exception to raise the debt ceiling. The arrangement also had the support of Senat Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Protecting the country’s economy is no more important than preserving the sanctity and vitality of democracy. Despite her alleged objection to a filibuster carve-out, Sinema supported an exception for the debt ceiling vote.
Groups plan to convene in D.C. on Monday ahead of the scheduled Senate vote. Butler called the current moment the “fight of our generation,” a time that will fundamentally reshape democracy for decades.
“Without legislation, we can’t celebrate the work and the vision of Dr. King,” Butler said. “And so that’s why we said we need to descend upon D.C. and be seen and be heard in a symbolic moment where we cannot choose this Jim Crow filibuster over the fundamental right to vote.”