Opinion: MLK’s eldest son: We want legislation, not celebration
Opinion by Martin Luther King, III and Arndrea Waters King
When our daughter, Yolanda Renee King, was born in 2008, her voting rights were more secure than they are today, on the holiday to commemorate her grandfather Martin Luther King Jr.’s 93rd birthday.
Over the past 13 years since our greatest joy came into the world, the Supreme Court has twice-over gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a historic bill Yolanda’s grandfather and countless other non-violent resistance leaders bled to secure. In the year between Yolanda’s 12th and 13th birthdays, state legislatures passed 34 suppressive laws in 19 states that make it harder for people to vote, including a draconian law in our home state of Georgia that criminalizes handing out water to voters waiting in long lines.
The same forces that schemed to oppress Black and Brown Americans when Dad was assassinated in 1968 are alive and well today, and they are systemically blocking access to the ballot box for people of color.
That is why we are calling on elected officials to legislate, not celebrate, today.
Our leaders shall not pay lip service to Dr. King’s memory while refusing to live up to his ideals. The Senate and President Joe Biden must honor the holiday by doing everything in their power to pass federal voting rights legislation to stop the assaults we’re seeing in states nationwide. That includes removing the filibuster as a blockade to justice and equality.During Jim Crow, the filibuster was used by segregationists to uphold appendages of slavery, including lynching, poll taxes, literacy tests and more. It’s now being used to block the right to vote for Black and Brown Americans — and it must go.
Already in the last year, the filibuster has blocked national voting legislation three times. Senate Republicans have weaponized the filibuster to block even debating legislation on the Senate floor. And without that federal legislation, states will continue to be allowed to pass bills that restrict early voting and Sunday voting, purge voter lists that organizers worked tirelessly to create, and close polling stations in communities of color.
So to make our call for the passage of voting legislation and not empty celebration heard, our family will be in the nation’s capital today, joined by civil rights leaders, voting rights activists, community organizers, faith leaders and voters from more than 180 organizations, including the National Action Network, NAACP, National Urban League, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and many more.
Together, we represent the millions of Americans who believe the right to vote is the bedrock of democracy, without which all other issues that move our nation forward cannot progress. Together, we will march over the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge to deliver a unified demand to the Senate and the President for real action to protect our voting rights — the type of urgency we saw for our nation’s bridges and other infrastructure.Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, President Lyndon B. Johnson told Dr. King that he didn’t have the political power to get voting rights done, too. Thereafter came the marches in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 and mobilizations led by Dad, John Lewis and many other leaders across the South to get President Johnson the power he needed. That same year, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed into law, ensuring Black and Brown Americans could vote without facing discriminatory laws designed to silence their political power.
In 2022, following the passage of the infrastructure bill, President Biden has a similar historic opportunity to tap into the power we’ve organized to get the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act done. The power is there. The people joining us today have mobilized the power the Senate and the President need to restore and expand the right to vote. We’ve marched, resisted, called, galvanized and organized to make our voices heard. We have not sat idle while the delicate fabric of our democracy unravels before us. Now, our senators and President, it’s your turn.Dr. King once said: “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” History will be made from action taken today.
Read the Op-Ed Martin Luther King, III and Arndrea Waters King on CNN.