Wearing white sashes, they marched from the Supreme Court into the streets after hearing speakers share personal stories about working low-wage jobs, struggling to pay bills and fighting for expansive voting rights.
As Capitol Police warned the dozens of women blocking the road that they would be arrested if they did not clear the intersection at First Street and Constitution Avenue NE, they sang louder: “Ain’t no power like the power of the women cause the power of the women don’t stop!”
They continued singing and pumping their fists in the air as officers relocated them onto the Capitol grounds. A Capitol Police spokesperson said 77 people were arrested, cited for crowding the street and will face a $50 fine.
The Women’s Moral Monday March on Washington was the latest in a string of protests organized by the new Poor People’s Campaign, the resurgence of a movement organized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. before his death in 1968. Protesters called on lawmakers to eliminate the 60-vote-threshold filibuster, to pass the For the People Act, which would override many voting restrictions in new Republican state laws, to expand and protect the Voting Rights Act and to enact a $15/hour federal minimum wage.
Organizers said the women at Monday’s protest traveled from across the country, including Texas, where Democratic lawmakers left the state last week to block the passage of new voting rights restrictions. Demonstrators chose the Supreme Court for Monday’s rally to challenge the recent 6-to-3 ruling in which the court’s conservative majority upheld two Arizona voting restrictions. The court’s liberals criticized it as weakening the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“This is not Jim Crow, this is James Crow, Esquire,” Bishop William J. Barber II, a North Carolina preacher who is the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival said in an interview last week. He is calling for a “season of nonviolent direct action” leading up to the August anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. “It’s a certain sadness that we have to fight over the American people having access to the ballot. We have to fight to get the American people a living wage.”
The more than 100 women gathered outside the Supreme Court, organizers said, represented the 100 people who signed the Declaration of Sentiments in 1848, which stated that “all men and women are created equal.” Dozens wore white sashes that said “pass for the people act,” “$15 min wage now” and “end the filibuster.”
“We have this multiracial coalition of people who are trying to raise their voice and their demands and their concerns, and you have a small minority of folks, extremists, who do not want to see that happen,” said Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. “It’s not new. We’ve seen this in history before. The women that gathered at Seneca Falls were called radicals.”
Marian Kramer, 77, has been protesting for civil rights and welfare rights since she was a child. “My mother got me involved,” said Kramer, a longtime welfare rights activist in Michigan. Growing up in Baton Rouge and Dallas, she remembers training people how to run from the Ku Klux Klan.
“I’m going down fighting,” Kramer said after Monday’s protest.
The women arrested Monday were quickly released and met with cheers and song from the rest of the group waiting at the nearby Lutheran Church of the Reformation.
Among the women arrested was Charly Carter, the executive director of the Democracy Initiative, a coalition of organizations advocating on issues including civil rights, worker rights, women’s rights and climate.
Carter, 56 of Baltimore, remembers growing up with images of people protesting for their rights and was raised to believe that voting was “the most important right and was the thing that demonstrated that you were a citizen.”
“We have to put ourselves on the line. This is not a fight we can afford to sit on the sidelines,” Carter said. “If we believe in this country at all, it’s gotta be worth risking arrest and showing up and standing in the heat to move our leaders, whether it’s here in D.C. or in West Virginia or Arizona or Virginia or Michigan.”
Carter turned to Jean Evansmore, 80, of West Virginia, after the two received police citations and asked: “So, what are we going to do about Joe Manchin?”
She was referring to Sen. Joe Manchin III, (D-W.Va.) who has been reluctant to throw his support behind key progressive issues, such as ending the filibuster.
Evansmore has protested for decades and remembers her grandfather, a coal miner, going to union meetings every Wednesday night. She says she plans to continue her activism for as long as she is alive.
So next Monday, she will protest again. This time, she said, she’ll be heading to Manchin’s office.