Growing up, we had front row seats to history as millions of Americans stood up to protect the right to vote for men and women of all walks of life. As the son and daughter-in-law of Martin Luther King, Jr., our lives were shaped by the people who marched on Washington in 1963.
Today, the right to vote, which so many fought for 58 years ago, is under attack once again, and effort is underway to purposefully silence the voices of Black and Brown Americans. Last month, Texas became the latest state to pass legislation that will make it harder, not easier, to access the ballot box. Despite the valiant effort of some members of the legislature, the state has joined other Southern states to enact laws reminiscent of those in place during the Jim Crow-era.
These laws are a direct result of the mobilization of thousands of Americans who came together to march and vote in 2020. Our work made a difference, but it is not done yet. This year, on the 58th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s “March on Washington,” tens of thousands of people – in cities from Washington, D.C. to Arizona – took to the streets to say with one voice that we will not be silenced. We will not be intimidated. We will not sit idly by while our most basic right as Americans is being stripped away.
In November, we rejoiced when it felt as though we won the battle for the soul of the nation. The election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris felt like turning the page to a new chapter. A few months later, we celebrated once more when Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff were elected to the Senate, making history and securing the Democratic majority needed to pass progressive policies.
And yet, the current attack on voting rights reminds us that democracy is not a bank you make a deposit into once every four years and keep taking withdrawals from every other day. As John Lewis said in his final message to us, democracy is not a state—it is an act. Our democracy is under attack, and it is up to us to remind the officials we so enthusiastically elected less than one year ago just why we put them in office.
WATCH: 58th anniversary of the March on Washington
When Martin Luther King, Jr. visited President Lyndon Johnson after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, he told the President it wasn’t enough. He told the President we needed a voting rights bill. President Johnson responded that he couldn’t do it, that he had used up all his political power to pass the Civil Rights Act. So that day people said, “Well, what are you gonna do now, Dr. King?” And he said, “We’re going back to the South to get him some power.”
We’re doing the same thing right now. The Senate and the Administration are saying they don’t have the power. They’re saying obstacles like the filibuster are insurmountable. But on August 28, 2021 there were over 95 marches and activations nationwide, uniting tens of thousands of people in the fight against voter suppression. We are telling those in office: this is what we people want, this is what the people need, this is what the people elected you to do.
The time to act is not a month or year away. The time to act is now.
This U.S. Senate must recognize the gravity of the situation before us. In the 58 years since the “March on Washington,” we have not seen such a threat to our democracy. The filibuster, a relic of white supremacy itself, is not untouchable. We cannot surrender the right to vote to a procedural roadblock.
Congress returned this week with a long to-do list, but nothing is more important than passing the Freedom to Vote Act. Anything short of that would be a disservice to the men and women who gave their lives for this cause decades ago.