“Our job was to rally the nation and bring people to Washington, D.C.,” Texas state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer said to his colleagues in the crowd. He pointed out the letter on the stage next to him, displaying the more than 500 signatures from state lawmakers demanding that Congress act to protect and expand voting rights. “We want one standard when it comes to voting in America, and that is the American standard.”
The For the People Act has stalled in the 50-50 Senate because of the filibuster, which has prevented Democrats from pushing the legislation through without Republican support. Activists have been turning up pressure on Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), two Democratic lawmakers opposed to ending the filibuster.
Jana Morgan, the director of the Declaration for American Democracy, a coalition of activist and advocacy groups that support the For the People Act and organized the rally near the Robert Taft Memorial, said that passing the For the People Act is “the only way to stop the crisis unfolding in state legislatures across the country.”
She then led the crowd in chanting: “Recess can wait! Democracy can’t!”
After the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013, Georgia state Rep. Renitta Shannon said Black, Brown, and Asian American and Pacific Islander voters in her state have “faced relentless attacks on their ability to exercise their right to vote.”
This has left organizers in her state trying to “out-organize new voter suppression laws just to have their community voices heard,” Shannon said. “It shouldn’t be that way.”
Other speakers at the event included Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), chairwoman of the Senate committee overseeing election issues, and Sen. Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Rep. John Sarbanes (Md.), the bill’s lead authors in the Senate and House. Many lawmakers also invoked the name and teachings of the late civil rights leader and Georgia congressman John Lewis.
“Never give up and never give in. That’s what John Lewis said to us, whenever we were together,” Sarbanes said to the crowd. “You keep showing up, you keep fighting back.”
Congressional Democrats and activists recently have increased their calls to protect voting rights and challenge new and proposed state voting restrictions.
The Poor People’s Campaign held a demonstration Monday with clergy and low-wage workers where prominent civil rights leaders the Revs. Jesse L. Jackson and William J. Barber II were among about 200 people arrested outside the U.S. Capitol demonstrating to end the filibuster, to protect and expand voting rights, to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and for “fair and respectful treatment” of immigrants. Three members of the Congressional Black Caucus also have been arrested during demonstrations at the Capitol.
State legislators and activists also are scheduled to march from the National Museum of African American History and Culture to Lafayette Square on Wednesday to demand that President Biden increase his pressure on senators to protect voting rights.