Yolanda Renee King, MLK’s Granddaughter, Wants Congress to Act on Voting Rights
In this op-ed, MLK’s granddaughter urges lawmakers to stop using her grandfather’s words while betraying his legacy.
Some kids learn about their grandparents by seeing them in person, sitting around the table at dinners, or simply stopping by to visit. As I’ve grown, I’ve learned about my grandparents Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King through hearing about them in school and reading about them in books, because they left a legacy that’s still alive today.
Now I am activating kids my age, across the country, to protect our right to vote — a cause my grandfather took on decades before I was even born. My grandfather knew that we could not have freedom and equality without the right to vote. Yet today that right is under attack, just as it was during his time. It is my generation’s turn to speak up.
So far this year more than 30 bills have been signed into law in 19 states that make it harder for people — particularly Black and brown Americans — to vote. These laws don’t just affect people today. I’m 13 now, but when it is my turn to step up and vote in a few years, my peers and I will face the same challenges. Now is our time to fight for our future.
My grandfather knew that sometimes we all had to get in a little “good trouble,” as the late Representative John Lewis would say, in order to be heard. The challenges my grandparents, Lewis, and so many others faced decades ago are bubbling up again. The torch is being passed: Now is the time to reignite the movement to fight for our right to vote.
Last week I joined a group of younger Americans and risked arrest outside of the White House to call on President Biden to do something big to protect the right to vote for our generation — just as my grandfather did. What we are seeing happening nationwide cannot continue. The right to vote is the foundation of this country, but it’s under attack right before our eyes.
The 1965 Voting Rights Act — the most significant legislation of its time — was gutted by a Supreme Court ruling in 2013, and further weakened by the court in another ruling this summer. A core part of the Voting Rights Act was to ensure that states with histories of discrimination against voting rights of minority communities had to get federal approval before changing their election laws. But now, due to the Supreme Court’s decisions, the door is open for these terrible, discriminatory state laws to be passed.
I am not the only young person speaking out about this issue. I have joined tens of thousands of youth activists across the country to demand action. In August, on the 58th anniversary of my grandfather’s March on Washington, we took to the streets of our nation’s capital to call on Congress to act. This wasn’t for the cameras. This was for our future. In 100 cities in 41 states, people marched on the same day to help our efforts.
Every American deserves the right to cast a vote on important issues when they turn 18. My grandfather lost his life fighting to make sure that we had that opportunity. My generation cannot sit back and let others determine the future for us. My grandmother once said, “Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.” It’s our turn to fight for our future and win our freedom.
The recent direct action at the White House was just the start of this youth movement to protect the future of our democracy. Do not be intimidated by the loud voices of opposition. My grandfather once said, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” We need Congress to do everything within its power to pass voting rights legislation so that we can cast our vote — now, or in a few short years. We need President Biden to put the full weight of the presidency behind this effort. There’s no cause greater than this before us. And if politicians insist on using my grandfather’s words in front of the cameras, then we must insist that they live up to his legacy and be willing to put everything on the line for one of our most fundamental rights.
Read Yolanda’s Op-Ed on Teen Vogue.