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MLK Day: King family to lead D.C. march for voting rights

Thousands march through the streets of D.C. on Aug. 28 in support of voting rights. Martin Luther King III, left of center, is seen next to the Rev. Al Sharpton. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
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The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s family will honor the civil rights leader on Monday by demanding action on federal voting rights legislation.

King’s eldest son, Martin Luther King III; his wife, Arndrea Waters King; and their daughter, Yolanda Renee King, are leading a march on Martin Luther King Jr. Day across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in D.C. at 10 a.m. before joining the city’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Peace Walk. They are urging the Senate and President Biden to enact federal voting rights legislation.

“MLK Day has always been a day on, not off. When we call for ‘no celebration without legislation,’ we’re not urging Americans not to honor this day — we’re asking people to honor Dr. King through action to protect the right to vote,” Martin Luther King III, chairman of the Drum Major Institute, a nonprofit started by his father, said in a statement to The Washington Post. “We’re directly calling on Congress not to pay lip service to my father’s ideals without doing the very thing that would protect his legacy: pass voting rights legislation.”

The King family, civil rights leaders, students and other activists have long called for lawmakers to expand and protect access to the ballot. Protesters marched in the nation’s capital all summer, including some who were arrested at demonstrations, and rallied in August at the 2021 March on Washington to bring attention to voting rights.

Now there seems to be more of an indication that lawmakers are listening and ready to take action.

On Tuesday, Biden delivered a forceful speech in Atlanta, attacking Republicans for passing restrictive voting laws in states such as Georgia and calling for sweeping voting rights legislation, even if it means changing Senate rules to circumvent a filibuster.

The Senate filibuster, which empowers a united minority of 41 senators to block legislation, has allowed Republicans to keep voting rights bills from advancing to debates and votes. In his speech, Biden compared Republican opposition to voting rights legislation to opposition to civil rights bills in the Jim Crow era.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said he plans to bring a package of rule changes to the Senate floor by Martin Luther King Jr. Day to allow Democrats’ voting proposals to pass with a simple majority. On Wednesday, he sent a memo to colleagues announcing his plan to accelerate the debate on the voting bills.

Martin Luther King III and Arndrea Waters King met with Biden while he was in Georgia and are joined by more than 150 partner organizations, including the NAACP, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the American Federation of Teachers, in their campaign calling for voting rights legislation.

The demonstrators are demanding that the Senate pass the Freedom to Vote Act, which would expand voting opportunities and increase campaign finance transparency, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which aims to restore key provisions in the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court weakened in 2013.

Martin Luther King Jr. was not a fan of the filibuster. In a 1963 interview about a potential civil rights act, he said, “The tragedy is that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided senators who will use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting.”

What Martin Luther King Jr. said about the filibuster: ‘A minority of misguided senators’

Those demonstrating on Monday say they are honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy by continuing his fight for voting rights as Republican-led state legislatures across the country have introduced and passed restrictive voting legislation. Those GOP efforts were spurred by false claims of widespread voter fraud from former president Donald Trump and his allies.

Voting rights advocates have pushed back, demanding federal voting protections to counteract state-level restrictive voting laws.

“Anything short of passing voting rights protections would be the most destructive act imaginable for democracy,” Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a news release. “We will not be able to out-organize voter suppression. The American people and their sacred right to vote are being systemically silenced. It is undemocratic, un-American and unacceptable. Congress, get it done. We don’t have much time left.”

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The march toward the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, which recently reopened after an ambitious rebuilding, will begin at 10 a.m. Monday, followed by a news conference on the bridge at 10:30 a.m. The group will then continue across the bridge and join the city’s annual peace walk to the Ambassador Baptist Church at 1412 Minnesota Ave SE.

Minnesota Avenue from Good Hope Road to 16th Street SE will have no parking from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday and will be closed to vehicle traffic from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., according to a D.C. police traffic advisory. Drivers may also encounter intermittent road closures from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. during the walk.

“My grandmother said ‘every generation has to earn its freedom,’ but I want my generation to secure freedom for all those that come after us,” Yolanda Renee King said in a statement to The Post. “This is our moment to rise up and protect our voting rights. Young people have always been at the forefront of change, and we won’t stop pushing until we get this done.”